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Biography

President Suzanne Keen

President Keen

Suzanne Keen, an internationally known scholar of empathy and reading, assumed the role of the 10th president of Scripps College in 2022. Her work as a scholar, teacher, and leader is animated by an ethics of care. 

Keen is a seasoned senior administrative leader with a decade of experience as an academic dean. Her previous roles include Chair of the English Department and Dean of the College at Washington and Lee and Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty at Hamilton College. 

As a chief academic officer, Keen has enhanced experiential learning opportunities for students by expanding undergraduate research, improving access to study abroad and internship programs, and establishing a robust academic advising initiative. Throughout her career, Keen has worked to expand access to higher education by increasing affordability and ensuring commensurate curricular and co-curricular experiences for low- and middle-income students and their full-pay peers.  

Keen has recruited and retained talented faculty in the arts, humanities, social sciences, and STEM fields, creating a supportive environment for their scholarly achievement, instructional excellence, and professional development. At both Washington and Lee and Hamilton, Keen increased hiring of BIPOC and women faculty in fields where they were historically underrepresented and supported their success through mentoring, implementation of campus-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, and articulation of anti-racist principles. Over the past several years, Keen has raised more than $12 million for humanities support, new positions in STEM, a special collections outreach librarian, and funds for student experiential learning. 

Recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship and author of four scholarly books, a textbook, and a volume of poetry, Keen brings her love of literature to interdisciplinary empathy research, in which she is a recognized authority. A feminist narrative theorist, between 2012 and 2018, she co-edited the Oxford University Press journal, Contemporary Women’s Writing, significantly expanding its collection of interviews with women writers. A collection of those interviews can be found here.  

Her best-known work is her 2007 book, Empathy and the Novel. Google Scholar rated Keen’s 2006 article, “A Theory of Narrative Empathy,” #1 Classic Paper of 2006 in Literature and Writing. Her 2014 book, Thomas Hardy’s Brains: Psychology, Neurology, and Hardy’s Imagination, was a finalist for the Phi Beta Kappa Society’s 2015 Christian Gauss Award. In 2022, avolume of her selected essays was published by Routledge. 

Keen was raised in Washington, Pennsylvania. She attended Brown University, where she studied studio art and English, graduating magna cum laude (Rhode Island Alpha of Phi Beta Kappa, 1984). She went on to earn a master’s degree in creative writing from Brown, before completing doctoral work in English language and literature at Harvard University. Keen has taught at Yale University, Washington & Lee University, and at Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English. 

Her spouse, Fran MacDonnell, PhD, Professor Emeritus at Southern Virginia University, joins Scripps as a Scholar in Residence. Fran is working on a book about the Hollywood blacklist. Keen’s son, Jake MacDonnell (Oberlin ’19; MLIS ’21, UNC Chapel Hill), serves as the Librarian and Registrar at the Commonwealth School in Boston, Massachusetts.