Richard Keeling

Principal and Senior Executive Consultant 

Richard P. Keeling, M.D., leads Keeling & Associates, LLC (K&A)—a comprehensive higher education consulting practice. K&A’s mission is improving outcomes in higher education by creating change for learning. At the heart of his leadership of K&A are these beliefs and commitments: that learning should be transformative, that learning must be at the core of the mission of colleges and universities, and that sound processes of institutional renewal can enable campuses to improve learning in its broadest sense. Since founding K&A, Dr. Keeling has worked with more than 500 institutions and organizations in the United States and Canada over nearly 25 years of practice. Dr. Keeling serves on the Board of Directors of the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS) and has been president of four professional organizations in higher education. He edited three sequential publications that focus on improving learning: Learning Reconsidered, Learning Reconsidered II, and Assessment Reconsidered. He has published more than 125 articles, monographs, and books, and served as Editor, for two terms, of the Journal of American College Health. He has received the highest awards of both the American College Health Association (ACHA) and NASPA-Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. Dr. Keeling and Dr. Richard Hersh recently published We’re Losing Our Minds: Rethinking American Higher Education (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). This book argues for substantial change in the culture of higher education to support higher quality and better value in undergraduate education in the United States. Before creating K&A, Dr. Keeling was both a tenured faculty member and a senior student affairs administrator at the University of Virginia and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. During more than 20 years on campus, Dr. Keeling taught and practiced medicine, directed comprehensive health programs and services, developed collaborative programs in undergraduate education with academic departments and faculty, and explored innovative, cross-institutional approaches to advancing student learning. Dr. Keeling took his bachelor’s degree in English with highest honors from the University of Virginia and received his M.D. from Tufts University School of Medicine; he completed residency in internal medicine and fellowship in hematology. He is the proud father of three liberally educated children and the grandfather of six future college students.

Some of my highlights

I’m proud of this company and the work we do. And I’m at least as grateful as I am proud — I have exceptional colleagues and friends both within K&A and across higher education, and all of them rightfully should claim credit for what K&A does well. K&A wouldn’t be what it is without everything that created its foundation — the “purple shadows” of the Lawn at the University of Virginia, that inspiring plaque in Bascom Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (“…we believe that the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found”), moments and conversations on hundreds of campuses with extraordinary people. I like what people often say about us, as a firm — that we’re serious, but don’t take ourselves seriously; that we enjoy each other as colleagues; that we’re “truth tellers.” I’m proud that we sift and winnow, and that we take account of what’s in the purple shadows.

Once a physician, always a physician; once an English major, always an English major. Understanding, as clearly and carefully as I can, what a problem is, or the dimensions of an opportunity, draws from both. Strategy, reviews, professional development, assessment — even executive search — have clinical characteristics (figure out what the problem is, or how to engage an opportunity, and help a client achieve a goal), but also require a literary perspective (“reading” the story, noting its plot and characters, helping a client work through a process of change or growth). Clinically, I know that outcomes matter, but process is important; as a humanist, I know that people and their stories — their ways of knowing and thinking — are as vital to success as data. Sometimes a line or two from a poem helps encapsulate a problem or point at a solution. And sometimes getting to a solution requires tests, as in medicine — but the tests in consulting aren’t X-rays and lab work; they’re surveys, and idea walls, and comparative research.

I love it when: in a conversation with students, this marvelous change happens in one (sometimes two) of their faces — their eyes refocus, their cheeks relax, and they say something about what just became clear to them. When, in a difficult (even contentious) meeting, there emerges, like a shape in the fog, this little, fragile possibility of common ground. When, at the near-end of a months-long strategic planning process, students, faculty, and staff find that a set of three or four (maybe five…) goals really defines what they want in the future. When Cooper, our Vice President for Canine Relations, barks me away from my computer to go see the sky. When, from the window of an airliner, I see the outline of home — Cape Cod — welcoming me back.

Music is an old friend; my piano is one of my best friends. Neuroscientists have begun to document what anyone who plays a piano (or a pipe organ — which is what I really love, but not something easy to have in your home…) has come to know — that the notes, rhythms, tones, and patterns of music are not only wonderful companions, but also antidotes for stress, anxiety, and uncertainty. It’s amazing how playing the piano for a little while helps organize thoughts and tamp down doubts. Words are at least as important to me as music — so my life is lined with books, magazines, The New York Times. I’ve adapted to text messages and Twitter, and I read short pieces on my phone (too often, probably). But there’s nothing that replaces a book, that thing you hold in your hands; books have weight, a feel, a touch. On the pages, I find lots to like — poems, short stories, narrative pieces, novels. When I fly (which I do a lot), The New Yorker is a  constant seat-mate. Living in Provincetown, MA, out at the end of the world (at least the end of US 6), I’ve found a wonderfully creative, welcoming community and the most extraordinary natural setting ever — the Atlantic, and its whales; the magical light of Cape Cod afternoons and sunsets; beachgrass, gulls, sand, and scrub pines.

Team Members