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Harvard Law Professor and Vice Dean Named Phillips Academy’s 15th Head of School

Palfrey holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School, a M.Phil. from the University of Cambridge and an A.B. from Harvard College.

John Palfrey to Succeed Barbara Chase in July 2012

November 14, 2011 -- John G. Palfrey Jr., Henry N. Ess III Professor of Law and Vice Dean for Library and Information Resources at Harvard Law School, has been named the 15th Head of School of Phillips Academy, Andover. He will succeed Barbara Landis Chase, who last spring announced her plans to retire at the end of the 2011-2012 school year. Chase is in the midst of her 18th year as Andover’s head of school.

The announcement was made today by Oscar L. Tang, president of the board of trustees, and Peter L.S. Currie, board president-elect and chair of the search committee. The board voted unanimously in favor of Palfrey’s appointment.

In addition to his work in the classroom and at the law library, Palfrey is a faculty co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, where he served as executive director from 2002 to 2008. As executive director, he secured funding for and oversaw programs to examine the far-reaching effects of the internet and digitized information. He has great interest in the intellectual development of students, particularly the intersection of adolescents, technology and access to information.

Palfrey’s academic background, management experience and scholarly pursuits, combined with his personal disposition, character and core values stood out during the eight-month search process, said Currie. He described the 39-year-old teacher, author and scholar as an “engaging leader and visionary educator” with an insatiable appetite for understanding how today’s students -- from grade school to graduate school -- learn, lead and serve in an increasingly complex and interconnected world.

“The trustees were captivated by John’s intelligence, warmth, passion and outstanding record of accomplishment,” said Currie. “As we got to know him over the last several months, it became clear that he has the essential qualities and characteristics to lead this Academy well. Among them, John is instinctively collegial and has a collaborative leadership style. He has immense intellectual curiosity, works to make himself extremely well-informed, and acts with great care.”

From Barbara Chase, Currie added, John Palfrey will inherit a wonderful legacy to build on.

Tang concurred, adding that Andover will enter a new era of leadership from a position of strength. “The selection of John Palfrey is an affirmation of that strength, as well as the shared vision and hard work that have propelled this great school through the last two decades,” he said. “As wonderful as our progress has been, and continues to be, I have every confidence that it can be even better."

Palfrey’s research and teaching focus on Internet law, intellectual property and the potential of new technologies to strengthen democracies locally and around the world. He is the author or co-author of several books, including “Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives” and “Access Denied: The Practice and Politics of Global Internet Filtering.”

Chase applauded the trustees for choosing a visionary leader. “Phillips Academy and John Palfrey are well-matched. An institution that holds in the highest esteem great teaching and innovation in education has found a champion of both.”

Palfrey said he is humbled and excited by the prospect of leading Andover, which also happens to be the archrival to his alma mater, Phillips Exeter Academy, where he developed many of his core values, including non sibi (not for self). “I am deeply honored to be appointed the 15th Head of School at Phillips Academy,” he said. “Barbara Chase, the trustees, the faculty and the entire Andover community deserve enormous credit for the extraordinary shape Andover is in today, and all that it is accomplishing on behalf of its own students and others around the world.”

Palfrey returned to Harvard Law School in 2002 after spending a year with the Boston law firm Ropes & Gray LLP. He was a Visiting Professor of Information Law and Policy at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland during the 2007-2008 academic year. He also served as a special assistant at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton administration.

A teacher, scholar, author and innovator, Palfrey has earned accolades for his books and scholarship, as well as his teaching. The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard recognized him in 2007 with a certificate of Distinction in Teaching. In 2005, he earned a Dean’s Commendation for Excellence in Teaching from the Harvard Extension School.

Palfrey holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School, a M.Phil. from the University of Cambridge and an A.B. from Harvard College. He currently resides in Cambridge, Mass., with his wife, Catherine, and their two young children. His official duties as Andover’s Head of School will begin July 1, 2012.


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  • Tracy Sweet, Director of Academy Communications
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