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K&A Statement: We Stand for Justice

It is not sufficient for us, as a consulting company that believes deeply in the principles and values of higher learning and liberal education, to simply share in the shock and dismay that so many Americans feel about the actions, words, and events that disrupted Charlottesville and the University of Virginia this past weekend. We work closely with colleges, universities, and the administrators, faculty, and staff whose teaching, scholarship, and programs and services engage and educate students every day. Three of the K&A staff took degrees from UVA; one served there, on the faculty and as an administrator in student affairs; we have friends, colleagues, and family at UVA and in Charlottesville — one of them a distinguished leader in the city’s African-American community, who probably never expected to see the despicable, disgusting spectacle of white men and women in sheets carrying torches in 2017. The terror, violence, and hatred of the weekend hit home in a powerful way. Now we #standwithCharlottesville.

All of us in K&A recoiled from the sights and sounds of white supremacists shouting and chanting racist, misogynist, homophobic, and anti-semitic words in and after their torchlit invasion of the University’s Grounds. Now we are grieving and heartbroken about the murder — that is what it was — of one young woman and the serious physical and psychological injuries sustained by far too many others in the neo-Nazi terrorist attack in downtown Charlottesville, as well as the deaths of two state troopers in a helicopter crash near the city. We will not abide any of it.

We are grateful for the courage of groups of UVA students who resisted and the strong statements made by University leaders and faculty, Charlottesville’s mayor and police chief, and Virginia’s governor. But gratitude and heartbreak — including our own — are not enough. Martin Luther King’s words resonate today: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” We learned in the 1980’s, fighting for people with HIV/AIDS, that “silence = death.” Now, in 2017 and beyond, silence = more death: the death of the most cherished and humane values of this nation of immigrants; the end of the dream of social and educational equity; the erasure of progress in our prolonged struggle to embrace the full diversity of human beings and their talents; and, indeed, the demise of liberal education itself, and a rejection of the gifts of higher learning.

So K&A will not be silent. We condemn and repudiate the evil that is white nationalism and its expressions in the words and actions of neo-Nazis and the KKK. We accept and will be accountable for the obligations of our privilege. We celebrate higher learning, liberal education, and the ways in which colleges and universities enrich culture, society, and the world. K&A will not be complacent. We will use every resource and tool that our ideas, writing, presentations, consulting and executive search services, and participation in the work of national organizations offer to say, clearly, loudly, and often: Keeling & Associates stands for justice, equity, community, and our shared humanity.


**Featured image credit: Star Tribune

Where in the World is Keeling & Associates By Bruce Douglass, Project Associate and Travel Coordinator

“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

In 2017, K&A was pleased to announce that during a very busy 2016, not a single employee was involved in an air rage incident or embarrassing viral travel video. However, our team members experienced adventures, adversity, mechanical problems, over-fueling, weather delays, and lots of other challenges in the course of our travels to assist clients. Despite it all, with thousands of miles under our collective belts, we followed the wise counsel of our founder, Richard Keeling, and remained cool, calm, and collected in the face of adversity.

Collectively, our team had enough miles in 2016 to circle the globe 13 times on 479 distinct flights; some likely thought that was exactly what they had done! For several, this meant elite travel status, more legroom, and priority boarding. We also learned that “Porsche service” does not refer to an express golf cart from one gate to another, but it really does involve the German automobile…much to our surprise and delight!

Still, we are away from our families and/or our pets* a lot! In one case, 165 nights out of the year. Our families, and even our pets, understand. The team never shies away from a challenge. We do not groan about boarding one more flight, train, or taxi, to get to our clients. Wandering, as Tolkien implies, does not mean we are lost as we visit new clients or return to familiar campuses for further work. Guiding our clients is at the heart of what we do and how we help institutions and people create change for learning. We may be concerned about the inclement weather, seat upgrades, and making our connections, but we wouldn’t have it any other way!

*Like many workplaces, K&A confronts the same question…are you a dog or a cat person? On our video conference calls, we see the occasional cat tail going across the screen or errant typing that is blamed on our feline companions. During birthday singing, it is not unusual to be joined by multiple dogs howling or barking along in “tune” with the humans. While we are a majority dog environment, Cooper (our benevolent Vice President for Canine Relations), from his safe environs in Provincetown, encourages feline participation while he casts one dubious eye at those of us who would support them.

#KAedchat – Interview Strategies for the Humble Wednesday, February 1, 2017 6:00-7:00pm ET

As we look past the current weather into the warm embrace of spring, we also find ourselves amidst another packed “Search season.” This means interviews, campus visits, and endless opportunities — or requirements — to talk about yourselves and your work. We often find that most candidates view accomplishments as a team effort, and in formal interview settings they tend to downplay their role in bringing the change to their campus. It may seem obvious yet still worth mentioning, hiring managers appreciate what you do on a team but are not interested in your team when asking about you. They are interested in you. How do we get comfortable with talking about ourselves? What are some effective strategies for mastering the art of bragging humbly? What are some good examples of emphasizing work you’ve done without overdoing it? Luckily, Jeff Ewing is here to help.

Join @JEwingSFO and the @KeelingHigherEd team tomorrow, Wednesday February 1, 2017 from 6-7pm ET as we explore “Interview Strategies for the Humble”, and learn to talk about ourselves!

Follow #KAedchat to join the live chat.

Strategic Thinking in 2017 and Beyond Gage Paine and Alex Emmanuele

What’s your reaction when someone tells you it’s time to work on a strategic plan? For some, the mere mention of strategic planning will elicit a groan or a roll of the eyes and spur images of out of touch ‘objectives’ that don’t relate to the institutional needs at all. The truth is that the old-school way of strategic planning often doesn’t involve strategic thinking, or thinking differently at all! Planning and thinking ought to go beyond identifying strengths and weaknesses, and trying to fix immediate problems; strategic planning can be an opportunity to define what is important to a particular campus or department, a chance to get campus constituents talking to each other and a way to define what is important and time to imagine the future. Strategic thinking and planning are more important than ever and are skills for everyone not just the president and the cabinet.

Strategic thinking can even be applied to personal growth and development. In order to bring change to a division, organization, or institution, we have to first change our mindset from ‘what is’ to ‘what can be’. How can individual professionals create goals, create a plan of ‘action steps’, and measure success? What resources do you need to embark on this journey?

Join Gage Paine, Alex Emmanuele, and the rest of the K&A team this Wednesday, January 25th from 6-7pm ET to try out your own strategic thinking experiment! Follow @KeelingHigherEd and #KAedchat to join the conversation.

Remaining Active Professionally During Retirement Roger Sorochty, Ph.D.

Long before retiring (rearranging my priorities is probably more accurate) from a forty-two year career in higher education – most of which was spent in student affairs and serving as a vice president during more than half of that time – I knew that I wanted to continue to be active professionally.  So early in my retirement I continued to participate in accreditation visits, and as I write this I continue to serve on the editorial board of NASPA’s Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice.

A few years prior to retiring I learned of NASPA’s Executive Interim Placement program.  It sounded very interesting and like something that would be enjoyable.  So, I submitted my application.  As I write this, I’m about to complete my second placement and I can honestly say that both, while different, have been personally and professionally challenging and rewarding.

I served a number of institutions during my career so perhaps that helped me quickly adjust to going to these new places and the situations both of these placements presented.  In both situations, everyone with whom I worked was extremely welcoming and supportive.  And while one never knows quite what to expect until one is engaged in these positions, it was quickly apparent that I wasn’t there to be a “place holder” but rather someone who was given real responsibility for the programs and services that were in my area of responsibility.

In these positions I’ve prepared budgets, participated in the development of strategic plans and marketing plans, served on committees that prepared and submitted multi-million dollar grant applications, hired staff, and just about everything else one would expect of someone who was in the position “permanently” rather than as an Interim.  Neither of these positions was at the vice president level which was never a concern for me.  However, based on my experience, my advice was often sought on a wide range of issues and I was pleased to be able to give it.

I’ve focused on the professional aspect of these positions but of course there’s also a personal aspect to them.  In both of my situations, my wife remained home and we’d arrange to visit each other periodically.  In my placements I lived in apartments and had to get acquainted with new communities.  Some aspects of my life were put on hold or rescheduled like doctors’ appointments.  Then there are the day to day things that you don’t give much thought to at home but which have to be figured out like getting the car serviced, finding a church, a good restaurant, a place to get a haircut, etc..  However, with all of those things and more I found my new colleagues to be extremely helpful.  And to this day I remain in touch with some of them and expect that I always will.

So if you’re someone who wants to remain active professionally during “retirement” and are open to living somewhere you might not have lived before, I would highly recommend the Interim Executive Placement  program.  I’m confident that my work was appreciated by the two institutions which I had the pleasure to serve for a while and I know that I gained a great deal from each one, too.


Roger Sorochty, Ph.D.

When You Still Have More to Offer… Tony Campbell, Ph.D.

After 40 years in higher education, 27 as a Senior Student Affairs Officer (SSAO), and a change of Presidents, it was time for me to make a change. As such, I announced my retirement in July to be effective the end of August. My plan was to take some time off and then pursue a second career with a nonprofit program that serves low income, inner city youth as they complete high school and pursue higher education. Shortly after my announcement, (OK, literally the next day!) I received a call from Jan Walbert from Keeling Associates representing the NASPA Interim Executive program. I had placed my name with the NASPA program earlier in the summer but had not spoken with anyone prior to Jan’s call.  In a confidential and professional manner, Jan spoke with me about an interim opportunity at a University that had a large population of first generation students and where over 60% of the students were Pell eligible. As we talked, she asked me to consider whether this population would be similar to the population I sought to serve in the nonprofit community and asked that I consider becoming a candidate for the position. To make a long story short, on August 8, two weeks after my retirement announcement, I began an interim position as Vice President of Student Affairs at a Catholic University in Chicago. ( My wife told me that I really stink at retirement!)

The Interim position fit the needs of the University to fill a critical senior staff position that had suddenly opened and where their president had recently announced her decision to retire at the end of the 2016-17 academic year. Strategically, the University needed to fill the leadership gap but did not want to make a senior staff decision for a new president. The interim opportunity also allowed me to continue to work without having to make a long term commitment.  To date, the move has turned out to be a wonderful decision for me and I believe, for the University. The senior staff, the faculty, the student affairs staff, and the students have welcomed me with a warm heart and a desire to move the institution forward as a team. I believe that my experience as a SSAO has allowed me to have a positive impact on the University. On a personal note, I have been reinvigorated by the opportunity and I look forward to coming to work each and every day. Working at a Catholic university has reacquainted me with the special sense of community and mission that is part of a religiously affiliated institution.  

I recommend an interim position to anyone who still feels they have something to offer and wants to have an impact on the world of Higher Education. Keeling & Associates and the NASPA Interim Program were very professional in helping me match my skills with this position and assisting me to explore the opportunity. Unlike other interim programs, you do not have to make a commitment to accept an offer prior to visiting the campus allowing you to assess the fit. Although there is no promise of a long-term relationship, it is always a possibility depending on the needs of the University and your desire to continue. For me, I have found the experience to be very positive.

Tony Campbell, Ph.D.

“Who You Going to Call?” – Addressing Executive Leadership Vacancies Levester Johnson, Ed.D.

Making the transition between institutions and senior student affairs officer (SSAO) roles comes with its fair share of “opportunities” (acknowledging how we avoid saying “challenges” professionally anymore while also embracing my top Strength Finder characteristic of “positivity”). Thus was my recent experience making the move from a small, private university to a large public over the past six months. The landscape within higher education is changing incredibly quickly — be it matters involving social justice to fiscal constraints — each day presents more complex tasks and initiatives to be accomplished. For me, this took place when I first walked into my office — developing an interim reporting structure while dealing with administrative-level vacancies

While several vacancies could be addressed by internal promotions to permanent or interim roles, one in particular involved the impending retirement of our director of Student Health Services within the first two months of my arrival. This combined with a desire to bide time for further reflection on the more permanent divisional structure and need to better understand the operation and direction of the health services department caused me to pause and seek an alternative approach to filling the director position. So, “Who You Going to Call?” The answer was quick and obvious based on my knowledge of NASPA resources and the Interim Executive Placement Services (IEPS) in partnership with Keeling & Associates (K&A). Through a few phone conversations and several follow up email messages, one of K&A’s senior associates was able to assist with the following:

  1. Clarify immediate and future needs for the department and division of student affairs in relation to the position.
  2. Identify the competencies and strengths which would determine the level of experience required to take on the role.
  3. Determine potential duration for the role.

Within three weeks, I was provided three viable candidates for consideration, held screening Skype interviews, brought two of those candidates for on-campus interviews and secured a highly qualified and seasoned practitioner having had experience at the director and senior student affairs officer level, and someone who was willing to start within a week of the campus interview. The dynamic environment within higher education requires senior student affairs officers to utilize innovative approaches to managing operations. Utilizing interim placement services can be added to SSAO’s options as they wonder about the next steps in both their career and in life.


Levester Johnson, Ed.D.

Exploring Cultures of Academic Innovation Dr. Andrew Morse

Innovation. A term that predominates the daily higher ed news cycle; characterizing the latest approach by leaders and practitioners in our field to confront a deep and lingering problem facing students or our institutions. Consonant to calls for efficiency and expectations for access, faculty and academic administrators have witnessed or contributed to the development of new approaches in online, hybrid, and/or competency-based educational delivery. Big data’s capacity to equip practitioners with real-time, predictive insights portend enhanced utility in illuminating wider pathways to success for more students.  

But as the news headlines depict the most compelling soundbites of the latest success story of innovation, we’re too often left without the details and context that provide the deeper, more compelling narrative on what it took to see the end result. How did the campus identify, operationalize, and build understanding of the issue that resulted in a change?  What were the technical, political, and philosophical hurdles to overcome along the way?  Have there been any unanticipated challenges now confronting the campus that may have addressed one issue but created others?  The fuller story, of course, requires a deeper attention span and appetite for the intersection of campus culture and the process of innovation on campus.

And it’s important to pause and recognize that the call for innovative thought and action has a longstanding presence in many college and university settings. We’re encouraging ourselves to break down silos and solve institution-wide priorities for educational equity together.  We’re finding new ways to integrate technology in practices that bolster our longstanding commitment to crisis prevention.  We’re becoming more intentional about mapping out where our intended learning goals occur at the institution and creating assessment strategies that illuminate learning that was once invisible.  Indeed, it’s a worthy thought exercise to reflect on why our campuses are resistant to change and innovation on some matters, but welcome it for others.

As a community, let’s pause and reflect on the cultural elements that intersect with innovation and change in higher education. Join Dr. Andrew Morse, Alex Emmanuele and the K&A team in another live Twitter chat this Monday, October 24 from 6:00 PM to 7:00 PM ET as we explore innovation; the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Reconsidering Innovation in Higher Education Alex Emmanuele

Every morning, after a carefully prepared egg white omelette from a box from the internet, I open my email to catch up on my Higher Education gossip. IHE, Huff Post, and the Chronicle are usually all waiting there, unopened, and often with a title related to Innovation, Design Thinking, or Process Mapping. I get excited easily when Design Thinking is the focus, as my undergraduate study was in Innovative Education and Human-Centered Design. However, every morning, I remain disappointed by what I read — tutorials, retrospectives, and blogs that leave me with “this is all you need,” when, in fact, I (we) need much more. It seems that we are more interested in the results than the process, and it is the process that separates this type of human-centered innovation from regular product design and decision making.

Thus we arrive at a question — is the culture surrounding innovation an impediment to impactful innovation? Let us examine innovation culture in higher education, and assess whether it needs to be reconsidered.

From a cursory Google search, we see that innovation culture is “the work environment that leaders cultivate in order to nurture unorthodox thinking and its application. Workplaces that foster a culture of innovation generally subscribe to the belief that innovation is not the province of top leadership, but can come with anyone in the organization.”

Yes; this ideal is great—one that allows ideas to come from anyone and anywhere within, and can change everything from the cafeteria’s layout to business development and work processes. In a college environment, this means faculty, students, administrators, and other community members coming together to tackle a sticky and complex problem on campus or in the world. It means openness to different perspectives and ideas, changing mindsets and approaches based on the needs of the ‘user,’ the person who experiences the problem.

But this way of supporting innovation seems alien or opposed to many aspects of academia, which often seems hesitant to embrace new ideas; the usual ways of thinking, teaching, and getting things done have ‘worked forever’, so why change now? Oddly, peer review, a fundamental way of assessing new ideas, is applied throughout higher education, except in innovation. All these new ideas, process maps, and product solutions get trumpeted and endorsed, but are not subject to empirical peer review. This high visibility of quick fixes catches everyone’s attention—hence the daily higher ed news updates.

There is a constant stream of advocacy in colleges and universities for interdisciplinary partnerships to face some of the most complex problems facing society. I wholeheartedly agree, and promote this kind of collaboration, true radical thinking that is transformational in nature. But how do we parse through the hype and get to the good, meaningful, and impactful innovation that allows us to operate more effectively, better serve our students, and support their learning and success?

Can we create a scholarship of innovation — a place to review the merits and downfalls, scalability, limitations, and effectiveness of proposed innovations within institutional context before they are thrust into use in institutional and industrial environments? Who volunteers to chair this higher education patent office of transformational ideas? Don’t look at me, I have to get back to my garage to build my world-changing innovative product. More to come.

#KAedchat – Storify – How Student Affairs Can Respond to New and Increasing Mental Health Needs Richard P Keeling

Dr Richard Keeling, Principal of Keeling & Associates, led another live Twitter Chat this week. In Part IV of a series focusing on the changing world of Student Affairs, #KAedchat explored partnerships between SA and Mental Health, as many institutions struggle with inundated counseling centers.