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Former legislator chosen as new Salem State president

John D. Keenan, a former 9-year Democratic state representative from Salem, was chosen Wednesday to be the 14th president of Salem State University.

University trustees voted to recommend Keenan, currently the school’s general counsel and vice president for administration, to the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, Salem State announced in a press release.

“Among a number of characteristics crucial to building on Salem State’s momentum, we felt strongly that the university’s next president should bring a strategic focus, a commitment to academic excellence and student success, and the ability to act as a strong external representative,” Board of Trustee Chairman Paul Mattera said in the statement.


His name now will be forwarded for final approval of the Board of Higher Education, which is expected to vote before the end of June, according to the university.

If approved by the state panel, Keenan will succeed current President Patricia Maguire Meservey who announced in January her decision to retire from the state university she has led for 10 years.

He represented Salem in the legislature from 2005 to 2014, when he resigned to become a vice president at the university. In that position, Keenan oversees day-to-day operations in areas including capital planning, the university police, and human resources.

Keenan was a key supporter of Salem State gaining university status in 2010, the statement said.

As a legislator, Keenan helped secure funding for several public projects such as the Salem Commuter Rail station. At the university, he helped fund the Sophia Gordon Center for the Creative and Performing Arts, according to the statement.

Before state representative, Keenan served as an assistant district attorney for Essex County in the domestic violence unit and as Salem city solicitor. He graduated from Harvard College and Suffolk University Law School.


The vote concluded a five-month search that drew 106 applicants from 37 states and the District of Columbia, as well as three international candidates. Keenan was one of four finalists.

A 14-member search committee chose the finalists, the statement said. Witt/Kieffer, an executive search firm, helped with the search.

Mina Corpuz can be reached at mina.corpuz@globe.com Follow her on Twitter @mlcorpuz.