Jeffrey Maher, the independent overseer assigned to ensure that St. Paul’s School was complying with a 2018 settlement agreement over allegations of sexual abuse, resigned on Monday, writing in a searing letter that the elite New Hampshire boarding school had become uncooperative and created an “intolerable working environment.”
Maher was intended to have broad leeway to interview students and teachers and examine internal records, a setup the school agreed to after it faced the threat of criminal proceedings from the New Hampshire attorney general’s office in 2018. Maher’s sudden resignation raises questions once again about whether St. Paul’s is doing enough to protect its students from sexual assault.
In his resignation letter, Maher wrote that the school was effectively hampering his ability to investigate institutional misconduct. He said school leadership told him that they did not want investigations “which could have civil or criminal impacts,” and that administrators wanted to be notified every time Maher spoke with an employee.
More recently, Maher wrote, he was “publicly berated and yelled at by a senior administrator," and then threatened with a lawsuit. The letter was made public by the New Hampshire attorney general’s office.
“Mr. Maher’s letter raises very serious concerns,” New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald said in a statement, adding that what Maher described "had plainly become an untenable situation.”
St. Paul’s strongly disputed Maher’s claims in a statement on Monday.
“Mr. Maher’s contention about the school resisting investigations is false," the school said. “To the contrary, the school has initiated numerous investigations using independent professionals into allegations of misconduct received by the school, regardless of whether there may be civil or criminal consequences.”
Lacy Crawford, the author of Notes on a Silencing, a memoir about being sexually assaulted at St. Paul’s School in 1990 when she was 15, said the news of Maher’s resignation left her shaking with rage.
“To force Jeff Maher out is a death knell for change on that campus," Crawford said in an interview with the Globe. The school publicly apologized to Crawford in August, and she had thanked them for the apology, saying it made her feel her “experience was allowed to matter.”
But now she sees things differently. Since her book came out over the summer, Crawford said she has heard from nearly four dozen survivors of sexual assault at St. Paul’s between 1960 and 2016. Some of the allegations relate to people who remain in leadership roles on campus, she said.
“It is one thing to offer me an apology for the egregious harms of the school 30 years ago, and I’m grateful for it,” Crawford said. “But it’s another thing entirely to have to take seriously those voices that are speaking to current power. In my experience, Jeff Maher was trying to hold current power accountable and they forced him out.”
The school acknowledged allegations of misconduct against current school leadership but said it had fully investigated them and found them without merit.
“To the extent that allegations of misconduct made against current school leadership are known to us, we have commissioned independent investigators to thoroughly review all allegations,” Kathy Giles, the school rector, wrote in a statement. “Based on the findings of these investigations, none of these allegations has been substantiated.”
The executive director of the Crisis Center of Central New Hampshire, which provides counseling for rape survivors, told the Globe that the organization had worked with Maher over the past two years to provide support services for St. Paul’s students and was dismayed by the school’s treatment of the overseer.
“We are unable to trust that St. Paul’s School has the students’ best interests in mind,” Jennifer Pierson, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.
Maher did not respond to requests for comment, but his position had become increasingly challenging in recent weeks, according to an e-mail he sent to Crawford that she shared with the Globe.
“Things are at a delicate stage at this moment in time,” Maher wrote to Crawford on Oct. 10. “This is an exasperatingly complicated place with so many layers. I cannot imagine how difficult this must be for you.”
St. Paul’s has been under intense public scrutiny since 2014, after a freshman girl was sexually assaulted during a sexual hazing tradition known as the “senior salute.” That case led to the high-profile trial of Owen Labrie, a former St. Paul’s student who was convicted of sexually assaulting his classmate, Chessy Prout, in 2015.
A separate, independent investigation of sexual misconduct at the school has substantiated abuse claims against 20 former faculty and staff members who worked at St. Paul’s between 1947 and 1999.
Crawford’s memoir told the story of being sexually assaulted and then facing an administration that sought to cover up the abuse she had experienced.
The settlement between the attorney general’s office and St. Paul’s school in 2018 required that the school follow its terms for up to five years or face possible criminal prosecution for child endangerment. The attorney general’s office has not said what it plans to do now.