Witt/Kieffer Assists Syracuse University in Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Search

May 17, 2019 – With the assistance of recruitment firm Witt/Kieffer, Syracuse University has chosen Keith A. Alford to be the school’s first chief diversity and inclusion officer. Consultant Charlene Aguilar and associate Christine Pendleton led the assignment for the firm.

Nearly 200 candidates expressed interest in the position, but the committee ultimately recommended the person who had been serving in an interim capacity since July. Mr. Alford’s appointment fulfills a key priority of the chancellor Kent Syverud’s Workgroup on Diversity and Inclusion, which in 2016 delivered wide-ranging recommendations for creating a more welcoming, respectful campus climate.

The committee was impressed with the caliber, experience and achievements of the candidate pool, said LaVonda Reed, professor of law and associate provost for faculty affairs, who co-chaired the search committee. But it was Mr. Alford’s proven ability to cultivate cross-campus relationships, his commitment to effecting meaningful change, and his depth of tangible and applicable experience, she said, that elevated him above other candidates.

“Through his commitment to outreach and dialogue, and his continuous advocacy for issues related to inclusion and engagement over his professional career, Keith has become the chief diversity and inclusion officer we were seeking,” said Ms. Reed. “As a member of our faculty, he has established himself as a thoughtful scholar and one who understands the capacity each of us possess to grow intellectually and in our interactions with the world around us.”

“He is an attentive listener who strives to understand the challenges, ideas and aspirations of our university community as evidenced by his interactions with many students and student groups, faculty and staff,” she said. “He is a patient, thoughtful and dedicated leader who is willing to tackle the most difficult challenges.”

Exceeding Expectations

“In his capacity as interim chief diversity officer, Keith has exceeded expectations, serving as both a leader and a bridge, bringing together diverse groups and viewpoints in constructive dialogue that has produced action,” said Mr. Syverud, the chancellor. “I am grateful that the search committee diligently considered a strong lineup of candidates, and I am delighted that they found the most impressive candidate to be the person already doing the job in an innovative and effective way.”

Mr. Alford has served as associate professor and chair of Falk College’s School of Social Work. He has also worked as graduate program director. His areas of specialization include mental health service delivery to children and families, culturally specific programming for children in out-of-home care, contemporary rites of passage programming and loss/grief reactions among African-American families. Mr. Alford is on the University Senate Committee on Diversity. He is also a member of the Division of Enrollment and the Student Experience’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council and serves as an advisor to the Student of Color Advisory Committee.

Related: Search Firms Step Up Diversity Recruiting Initiatives

As chief diversity and inclusion officer, Mr. Alford provides executive leadership, oversight and vision in the administration of services, programs, policies and procedures related to Syracuse’s diversity and inclusion efforts. He is further charged with leading implementation of a university-wide strategic plan for diversity and inclusion.

Veteran Consultants

Witt/Kieffer has been an advisor to hospitals, health systems, academic medical centers, universities, physician groups and other healthcare enterprises for more than 45 years. With over 100 expert search professionals nationwide, its consultants recruit CEOs, CFOs, COOs, physician executives and many other leaders.

Related: Recruiters Up Their Game in Diversity

Based in South Bend, IN, Ms. Aguilar works in Witt/Kieffer’s education practice. With over 30 years of experience, she conducts leadership searches for college and university presidents, chancellors, provosts and deans, in addition to key positions in advancement, academic and student affairs, enrollment and admissions. She also has knowledge and experience on diversity and inclusion initiatives across the spectrum of independent secondary schools along with public and non-profit enterprises.


Here’s the Single Biggest Challenge Facing Diversity Leaders
Those who step into a new job as chief diversity officer tend to carry a heavy load. Theirs is an increasingly vital role. The challenges they face are complex and the demands of the position are many, with pressure coming from all sides. Naturally, institutions want strong, well-versed leaders in this area. 


Ms. Pendleton, who works out of Witt/Kieffer’s Oak Brook, IL office, joined the firm in 2014. She works to identify presidents, chancellors, provosts, vice presidents, deans and chief diversity officers on behalf of public and private universities and colleges and other senior leaders in non-profit organizations. She is a member of the firm’s diversity council and the director of its community fund.

Commitment to Diversity

Diversity and inclusion is integral to Witt/Kieffer’s culture and mission. The firm’s commitment to diversity began decades ago with its efforts to support diversity in the ranks of its client partners’ senior management teams. “We believe that a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion is critical to the success of both our firm and our client partners,” Witt/Kieffer said.

The majority of Witt/Kieffer’s workforce is women, and of its 30 partners, almost half, or 13, are women. Many serve in leadership and governance roles, including the vice chair of the board, chief financial officer, chief knowledge officer, chief human resources officer, the head of the U.S. operational committee and the head of the international operating committee.

Witt/Kieffer has a long track record of helping clients build pools of highly qualified candidates with diverse backgrounds. The Chronicle of Higher Education, New York Times and Hunt Scanlon Media’s Executive Search Review have cited the firm for its diversity efforts. ”We encourage solution-oriented discussions with our clients about diversity and inclusion and support a broad view of diversity,” Witt/Kieffer said. “We assist our clients in building diverse pools of accomplished candidates through a network of relationships built on trust earned over many years.”

Related: Key Activities to Drive Diversity and Inclusion Strategies

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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