Lisa MacFarlane ’75, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), will be the 15th Principal at Phillips Exeter Academy (Exeter), effective September 1. She will succeed current Principal Thomas Hassan.
Exeter chose MacFarlane from a diverse pool of many accomplished candidates, including independent school heads, leaders in higher education and other talented educators, according to the Exeter press release.
After serving as a teaching fellow at Exeter for a year, MacFarlane spent 28 years teaching American Literature classes and seminars in the English department at UNH.
“She is well-prepared and a remarkable fit. She is an accomplished scholar, committed teacher and sophisticated administrator,” said Tom Hutton, President of Exeter’s Board of Trustees and a member of Exeter’s principal search committee, in the press release.
Belle Burden Davis and Tony Downer, co-chairs of the search committee, both said that, after performing thorough research, they felt confident about MacFarlane’s ability and are excited to begin a new chapter at Exeter under her leadership.
“I was very happy at UNH and really hadn’t thought about leaving, but the Exeter search committee called and asked if I would speak with them. That first conversation was very engaging and comfortable, and after each subsequent one, I felt more excited about the opportunity,” wrote MacFarlane in an interview with The Phillipian.
MacFarlane wrote that one of the most exciting aspects of Exeter is the “Harkness” method of teaching, which involves students sitting around an oval table and participating in discussions with minimal interference from instructors. She looks forward to returning to this method, after years teaching at UNH.
“I am a huge Harkness fan—not just as a pedagogy, but also as both a philosophy for how we should treat one other and as an epistemology for how we might think about the world. The challenges of the 21st century make those practices and values absolutely vital. I’m really looking forward to working with the entire Exeter community to imagine how to carry the spirit of Harkness and the principles of the Deed of Gift into the future,” she wrote.
The Deed of Gift was written by John Phillips, founder of Exeter, in 1781. The document funded Exeter’s creation and asserts the guiding values of the institution of Exeter.
“The Principal at Exeter, as laid out in the Deed of Gift, is the Principal Instructor, which I love: it puts the emphasis on how we teach and learn together, which is the heart of the Academy, and it reminds everyone that the faculty (and staff) and students work together to achieve that,” said Macfarlane.
“The Principal Instructor’s job at Exeter is essentially the same as the Head of School at Andover: to be responsible for creating the best possible environment for students, faculty and staff to learn together, and to help the Academy imagine and achieve its future,” she continued.
Macfarlane added that meeting the diverse community of students that attend and have attended Exeter will be the most exciting opportunity for her.
MacFarlane said that she particularly enjoyed learning English, history and art history at Andover, but the inspiring people in the Andover community made the greatest impact on her.
“Andover was transformative: everyone was passionate about something, and everyone respected that about each other. I had never been in that kind of environment before, and it opened my eyes to what was possible, and what I should expect of myself,” MacFarlane said.