Phillips Exeter Academy hires new principal from UNH

Academy notes ex-husband’s past

The prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire announced Friday that it had completed an exhaustive search for a new principal and had settled on Lisa MacFarlane, currently the provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of New Hampshire.

At the same time, Exeter disclosed to faculty, staff, students, parents, and alumni that in 2006, MacFarlane’s then-husband was arrested and convicted for online solicitation of a minor, which MacFarlane disclosed at the beginning of talks about the position. MacFarlane separated from her husband at the time of the arrest, and they later divorced, according to the disclosure.

“I am 100 percent in support of Lisa MacFarlane,” said Tom Hutton, president of the trustees, who said he had looked “deeply” into the situation. “I am completely confident that Lisa will do a wonderful job as principal, and I have no concerns about her husband’s history.”


MacFarlane, who did a one-year teaching fellowship at Exeter before joining the UNH faculty in 1987, has received a College of Liberal Arts Teaching Excellence Award, and held the Fulbright Commission’s Walt Whitman Chair in American Studies in the Netherlands from 1999 to 2000, according to an Exeter release. She has published books and articles, according to the release, and at UNH she “nurtured curricular initiatives around sustainability from the Isles of Shoals to the islands of New Zealand.” Today, according to the release, UNH is “one of the leading green campuses in the US.”

MacFarlane, who is the parent of two Exeter alumnae, is slated to start as the academy’s 15th principal on Sept. 1, according to the release. She could not be reached for comment Saturday.

The release was sent to the Exeter community Friday with the disclosure about MacFarlane’s former husband.

“I want to assure you that the Trustees have researched this matter in depth, and we have complete confidence that her ex-husband’s past behavior has no bearing on Dr. MacFarlane’s ability to lead Exeter today,” read the disclosure. “In fact, our conversations with Dr. MacFarlane about this matter have only increased our admiration for her character and judgment.”


Her former husband lives in Exeter, the disclosure read, and if he were to visit campus it would only be with the academy’s advance permission.

Hutton said he got “dozens” of e-mails applauding the hiring of MacFarlane, and only two or three questioning her ex-husband’s background.

“I’m sure she’s the best person for the job,” said one mother, whose 15-year-old daughter attends Exeter. The mother, who asked that her name not be used to protect her daughter’s privacy, said she had no concerns about her daughter’s safety, that she trusted the school and the trustees, and they did the right thing by disclosing MacFarlane’s former husband’s background.

“They handle everything openly and clearly. I think it would have been a mistake not to divulge that,” she said. “It’s a difficult situation, and I’m sorry for her that she had to go through that. I don’t think it reflects on her in any way.”

Evan Allen can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen.