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Three finalists named for post as head of Mass. higher education

Board set to vote later this month

A search committee of the state Board of Higher Education announced Wednesday the three finalists for the state’s next commissioner of higher education.

They are John O’Donnell, president of Massachusetts Bay Community College; Carlos Santiago Sr., deputy commissioner for academic affairs of the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education; and Bill Walczak, founder and past president of the Codman Square Health Center and 2013 Boston mayoral candidate.

The finalists will interview in a public meeting of the Board of Higher Education on May 15. The board is set to meet again on May 20 to vote on a new commissioner. The vote is subject to approval from state Secretary of Education James Peyser.


The new commissioner is set to begin the job July 1. Outgoing commissioner Richard Freeland announced in October that he would step down in June after six years as commissioner. Freeland has spent four decades in higher education, including 22 years in various positions at UMass Boston and 10 years as president of Northeastern University.

The search committee includes members of the Board of Higher Education, leaders of public and independent schools, students, and external stakeholders. The national search firm Isaacson Miller is helping with the search.

O’Donnell began his tenure at Mass. Bay in 2011. He previously served as president of Stark State College in Ohio, and as chief executive officer of the New Hampshire Community Technical College System, according to a statement from the Department of Higher Education.

Santiago has worked for the Department of Higher Education since 2013 and served as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.

Walczak is also founding president of the Codman Academy Charter School and the Edward Kennedy Health Careers Academy, and is a past president of the UMass/Boston Alumni Association, according to the state press release.

Contact Laura Krantz at laura.krantz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.