Ex-Phillips Exeter principal censured
An international association of boarding schools has censured the former principal of Phillips Exeter Academy for failing to disclose that a prominent teacher had admitted to sexual misconduct before the association gave him an award in 2012.
The censure of former principal Tom Hassan, husband of New Hampshire’s governor, is part of the growing fallout from revelations this week that popular Phillips Exeter faculty member Rick Schubart had admitted to sexual misconduct with two students. But Hassan, who stepped down in 2015, did not disclose Schubart’s conduct publicly or to The Association of Boarding Schools, which gave Schubart a leadership award in 2012.
TABS, as the association is known, revoked Schubart’s award on Thursday and stripped him of his emeritus designation on the board of trustees.
Meanwhile, current principal Lisa MacFarlane said the renowned private school is hiring an independent investigator to look into all allegations of misconduct, some of which emerged this week, according to an e-mail shared with the Globe by a former student. In addition, Phillips Exeter canceled a major fund-raiser planned for next week.
Tom Hassan issued a statement Friday night apologizing for failing to publicly disclose Schubart’s misconduct in 2011 and 2015.
“We were attempting to balance the privacy and wishes of the victim with the utmost need to ensure the safety of members of the community, and it’s clear in retrospect that we didn’t get that balance right,” he said. “We should have taken additional action to ensure transparency and accountability at that time, and I join Phillips Exeter Academy in apologizing for an inadequate response and I accept the decision of The Association of Boarding Schools board.”
The TABS board of trustees approved issuing the letter of censure on Thursday to Hassan. Hassan had been a member of the board for roughly five months between the start of his term and the presentation of the award to Schubart, who was forced to resign in 2011 and then barred from campus in 2015 after he admitted a second case of sexual misconduct.
“We learned on Wednesday for the first time about Rick Schubart’s reported misconduct, his forced retirement from Exeter in 2011, and the additional disciplinary measures the school imposed in 2015,’’ said a letter from board chairwoman Susan A. Nelson and executive director Peter W. Upham. “The revelations this week have been deeply disappointing, personally and professionally.’’
Schubart, who served as executive director of the boarding school group in the 1990s, worked for nearly 40 years at Phillips Exeter, holding leadership positions. In 2011, Phillips Exeter officials said Schubart had resigned for health and personal reasons and permitted him to continue advising student groups and receive recognition for his contributions to education. Schubart did not return calls seeking comment on Friday.
Phillips Exeter finally disclosed the misconduct on Wednesday, a day after the Globe made inquiries on the two cases from the 1970s and 1980s.
Meanwhile, Governor Maggie Hassan, locked in a closely watched US Senate race in New Hampshire, sought to inoculate herself Friday from any connection to Schubart, who was a campaign donor and volunteer during her 2012 campaign for governor.
Maggie Hassan was living on campus with her husband in 2011 when the school reported Schubart’s misconduct to authorities and forced him to resign.
In 2012, when she ran for governor, Hassan listed Schubart as a member of her campaign’s Rockingham County Steering Committee. He has also been a regular contributor to Hassan’s campaigns.
“The fact of the matter is while I sensed something was wrong” when Schubart abruptly retired in 2011, “I didn’t have the kind of information that would have indicated that removal was appropriate and my husband was protecting the confidentiality of the victim,” the Democratic governor told reporters.
Current principal MacFarlane confirmed that the school is hiring an independent investigator to look into abuse allegations.
“Like many of our peer institutions, we often hire outside investigators to ensure that the investigation is swift, thorough, and independent,” MacFarlane wrote in an e-mail. “If anything does surface, our investigator will thoroughly review any allegations. We will adhere to reporting requirements and will communicate with the campus community as warranted.”
The revelations could affect Hassan’s bid to unseat Republican US Senator Kelly Ayotte, a first-term lawmaker challenged by running during a presidential election year in a state that has voted Democratic in the past three White House contests.
Democrats consider toppling Ayotte crucial to their hopes for reclaiming the Senate, where Republicans enjoy an eight-seat majority.
Republicans opted for relative restraint Friday regarding the Hassans’ role. In a statement, Ayotte, a former state attorney general, said, “Important questions have been raised about whether these accusations were handled properly that must be fully addressed to ensure the safety and well-being of students.”