Photo by Peter Julian

His name was Joe, and he was the janitor in the building where a then-teenaged Richard Keeley worked. An avid reader, Joe would often talk with the young Keeley about his favorite books, especially Henry David Thoreau's Walden.

"He said, 'Dick, I've read it a dozen times, and I still don't understand it,'" recalls Keeley, who is retiring as senior associate dean for undergraduates in the Carroll School of Management at the end of the 2017-18 academic year. "'Isn't that wonderful?'"

Joe's declaration conveys the essence of what an educational experience should be, says Keeley, who's often recounted the anecdote for Boston College students over the course of his 43 years at the Heights.

"It's the willingness to submit ourselves to that passage, even though we don't know for sure what the destination will be," he explains. "You take a chance, you put yourself to a challenge, and even if you don't completely succeed you find things to appreciate about the experience."

Keeley, a 1972 BC alumnus, has found plenty to savor in his career at the University: as director of PULSE, the for-credit program combining human services field work and the study of philosophy and theology; at the Carroll School, which he joined in 1991 as an assistant dean for administration, and as director of programs for its Winston Center for Leadership and Ethics.

He also feels fortunate to have been part of a period of extraordinary growth and development for Boston College.

"What I've seen is a new confidence and ambition about BC — a refreshing self-assurance about what it can become," says Keeley, a Rochester, NY, native. "At the same time, I see continuity. BC continues to draw students of remarkable generosity, who feel the call to serve and share their gifts, through PULSE and the Faith, Peace and Justice Program, Appalachia Volunteers, and similar programs.

"I also see continuity in the presence of teachers, across all schools and departments, who can inspire and be prominent in their fields, their doors open to students. I feel very fortunate to have been part of this community, and to have been able to contribute in some way to its progress."

Keeley first encountered Boston College when he came to campus for a high school debate tournament hosted by the University. Impressed by both the city and the college, Keeley enrolled, majoring first in English then switching to philosophy.

One of his seminal BC undergraduate experiences was taking part in the newly-launched PULSE, under the direction of Professor of Philosophy Patrick Byrne. "I went out to a Boston neighborhood and helped residents transform a vacant apartment into a community library," says Keeley, who sat on the very first PULSE organizing council as a senior. "I really liked making the local connections, and putting our social teachings into action."     

"The success of PULSE is just one of Dick's legacies to Boston College. Still greater is the countless number of young people who left the University with a maturity they gained from his mentoring, which they have since paid forward into their professional, civic, and family lives."

Two years after graduating, Keeley returned to his alma mater for graduate studies in theology, and wound up taking the directorship of PULSE. The task before him and his colleagues was to further develop the program's classroom aspect — "a framework to help the students better understand themselves and their PULSE experience." He commends the Philosophy and Theology departments, and faculty members like Robert Daly, S.J., and Joseph Flanagan, S.J., in particular, for their support.

"We had all these wonderful students, who had the courage, the empathy, the willingness to lead," he says. "We tried to give them room to do that, and they did, as students and alumni."

By the time Keeley stepped down from PULSE, some 4,500 students had participated in the program; more than 200 undergraduates were taking part each year, serving placements in 36 area social service agencies and organizations. Several universities and colleges were in the process of establishing their own versions of PULSE. In 1990, a $750,000 grant from The Dayton Hudson Foundation helped to endow PULSE.  

"PULSE was at a critical juncture when Dick became director," says Byrne. "He stabilized relationships with community partner supervisors of student volunteers and worked with faculty members to fully integrate the academic components with the students' service experiences. Then as now, he gained the confidence of all by listening carefully to all parties, offering thoughtful options, and providing a presence in which people could set aside differences and work together creatively. I recall many times when he calmly guided well-meaning students and their ill-conceived schemes into productive projects — transforming the students themselves in the process.

"The success of PULSE is just one of Dick's legacies to Boston College. Still greater is the countless number of young people who left the University with a maturity they gained from his mentoring, which they have since paid forward into their professional, civic, and family lives."

Studying for his MBA at the Carroll School during the late 1980s, Keeley became acquainted with its administrators and faculty, including dean John Neuhauser, who envisioned a PULSE-type program for the school. Keeley then worked with the school to create First Serve, a service-and-study program for honors students.

Offered a chance to join the Carroll School  administration, Keeley saw the opportunity to strengthen and augment the Jesuit ethos in the its programs and resources. He contributed to the introduction of a one-credit course in ethics that provided the basis for Portico, a three-credit entry course for all the school's first-year students that examines business from global, multidisciplinary, ethical and social perspectives.

"It was a lot of work, but I enjoyed the collaboration which made Portico possible," says Keeley. "We all felt it was important for business and management students to go through the same kind of discernment — to find out what they are being called to do — as those in other fields and disciplines."

Keeley has long been a fan and scholar of the writing of urban visionary Jane Jacobs, and during his PULSE tenure he struck up a friendship with her, earning an invitation to visit the writer in her Toronto home. Eventually, he persuaded Jacobs to donate her papers, in 1995, to BC's Burns Library. Once he steps down from the Carroll School, Keeley will focus on a project that entails writing a general introduction to Jacobs' work.

"I've had a great time here," he says. "I think it's just a good idea to 'get out of the way' and give others opportunities. But I'm glad to know I'll still be connected to the BC community."

—Sean Smith | University Communications | May 2018