Bill Rawson '71 named principal at Phillips Exeter Academy

Trustees call Rawson an 'extraordinary individual to lead our community forward.' 

January 25, 2019
Play VideoBill Rawson shakes hands with Trustee Tony Downer in Exeter's Assembly Hall.

William Rawson '71; P'08 becomes the 16th person to serve as principal since the Academy's founding in 1781.

The Trustees of Phillips Exeter Academy have named Bill Rawson ’71; P’08 the school’s 16th principal, removing his interim status after six months of “extraordinary” leadership.

President of the Trustees Tony Downer ’75; P’06, ’06, ‘07 made the announcement at the conclusion of assembly on Jan. 25, telling the community that as the Trustees prepared to initiate the search process for a permanent principal, it became more and more evident to them that the right person was already on the job.

“Throughout the fall, individual Trustees have been approached on an unsolicited basis time and time again by faculty, staff, alumni and parents, asking us — indeed, urging us — to consider extending Interim Principal Bill Rawson’s service by naming him the next principal of the Academy,” Downer said.

Those informal conversations prompted the Trustees to do “extensive outreach to discern the Exeter community’s views.” Downer said Trustees spoke with more than 65 faculty and staff members and met with the Dean’s Council, a group comprised of students holding a broad array of leadership positions. Additionally, Trustees gathered alumni input through outreach undertaken by the 18 directors of the General Alumni Association who serve as representatives of the alumni body.

“Those engagement efforts conveyed to us a chorus of pronounced support for selecting Bill Rawson. … At the end of our process, the Trustees resoundingly decided that we have the extraordinary individual to lead our community forward.”

Rawson expressed to the assembly audience his excitement about the opportunities ahead.

“Attending Exeter was a transformative experience for me,” he said. “I am deeply committed to helping Exeter be the same for all of you, and all who will follow you. I am committed to doing all I can to support the Exeter of today, while working with all of you to envision the Exeter of tomorrow. It is with these responsibilities and commitments in mind that I have accepted this appointment.”

Rawson was appointed interim principal on May 21, 2018, to serve a two-year term while the school searched for Principal Lisa MacFarlane’s successor. MacFarlane announced last February she was returning to the University of New Hampshire to teach after serving three years as Exeter’s principal.

Rawson’s return to Exeter last summer followed a 32-year career at the international law firm of Latham & Watkins in Washington, D.C.

Rawson earned a B.A. in American Studies from Amherst College and his law degree at Stanford Law School. He has volunteered in nearly every capacity at the Academy, from leading class reunions to serving as trustee from 2004-16. Prior to attending law school, he served as an Admissions officer at PEA, where he lived on campus, advised students and coached lacrosse.

“Most of you know that I worked in the Admissions Office for two years, from July 1976 to June 1978,” Rawson said. “I then took a 40-year leave of absence. I am delighted to be back. I am excited to be your principal.”