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MacFarlane speaks on decision to leave UNH

By Ken Johnson, Staff Writer

COURTESY PHOTO Provost Lisa MacFarlane will take over as principal at Phillips Exeter
Provost Lisa MacFarlane will take over as principal at Phillips Exeter

The University of New Hampshire announced via a statement in an email to the UNH community on Jan. 30 that Provost Lisa MacFarlane would be leaving her position at UNH to be the next principal of Phillips Exeter Academy.

MacFarlane said she was contacted shortly prior to Thanksgiving by the search firm for Phillips Exeter Academy, inquiring as to whether she would speak with members of the search committee for their new principal.  MacFarlane said that after initially talking with the search committee she wasn’t sure if it would be a good fit, but the search committee asked to continue discussions.

“And so in January I spoke with them again,” MacFarlane said. “The more I talked with the search committee, the more it just felt like it was going to be a really great fit both for them and for me and I was very excited by the opportunity,” MacFarlane said.

Phillips Exeter Academy released a statement on Jan. 30 that read, “The Trustees of Phillips Exeter Academy announced today that they have chosen Lisa MacFarlane to lead the school as the next principal instructor. She succeeds Tom Hassan, who announced his retirement last July.”

MacFarlane has spent over 27 years working at UNH and through various positions has interacted in different ways with students and colleagues during her tenure.  MacFarlane started at UNH in the fall of 1987 as an assistant professor of English after finishing her Ph.D. at the University of Michigan.

“When I left [the interview] I thought ‘this is the place I want to be, I really want to be part of this community’ and was lucky enough that they made me an offer,” MacFarlane said.

MacFarlane rose up through the English department, going from assistant professor to associate professor before ultimately earning the title of professor. 

MacFarlane has also been the director of the University Honors Program from 2004-2008, the director of the Cambridge Program in 2008, 2010 and 2012, senior vice provost of Academic Affairs from 2008-2013, and most recently serving as provost, which she began in 2013.

The provost position at UNH includes being vice president for academic affairs and the chief academic officer for all three of UNH’s campuses (Durham, UNH at Manchester and UNH School of Law in Concord).

“So that means that all elements of UNH’s core mission, which is teaching, research and engagement, are under my watch and so I’m responsible for roughly $430 million and 2,000 employees, more than 15,000 students, the 140 odd degree programs that we have on the three campuses,” MacFarlane said.

“… [A]nd the senior vice provost for academic affairs is focused primarily on the teaching mission of that portfolio,” MacFarlane said. 

MacFarlane said that she thinks that she enjoyed being the director of the University Honors Program position the most.

“I got to know all the academic programs on campus, I got to meet faculty from all over in lots of different disciplines, I got to work with students who had lots of different interests, we got to do a lot of interesting things with residential life,” MacFarlane said.

She added that she loved being the director of the Cambridge Program as well.

“… [Y]ou live with a group of students in college, at Cambridge University, we not only learned and taught together but essentially lived together and my passion for that immersive residential experience is one of the things that really attracts me to Exeter,” MacFarlane said.

She explained that the principal instructor position at Phillips Exeter Academy is similar to what she currently is doing. 

“I will be responsible for all of the activities of the school,” MacFarlane said.  “The principal is also like the president at UNH, the face of the school to the outside world and the person who ultimately works with the faculty and staff to set the direction of the school.”

The position also includes overseeing the excellence of the programs, the well-being of the students, relationships with parents, friends and alumni, MacFarlane said.

“It’s essentially like being, in some ways, the president of a liberal arts college,” MacFarlane said.

MacFarlane’s tenure at UNH will end at the end of the academic year.

She said that she is going to miss the students at UNH and seeing UNH take off over the next decade.

“I’m really happy that I will only be 10 miles down the road, UNH will always be close to my heart and it will also be close to my house and I don’t expect that I will be a stranger to my many friends and colleagues at UNH,” MacFarlane said.

UNH President Mark Huddleston stated in a statement released Jan.30, “In the next few days, I will consult with senior academic leaders, assemble a broadly representative search committee and launch a national search for Lisa’s successor.”

“I’ve been really so happy at UNH and so happy that I am going to be able to take on this new role but not have to leave my friends and colleagues,” MacFarlane said.

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