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Tom Hassan accepts censure in Phillips Exeter scandal

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 02. 2016 7:54PM
Gov. Maggie Hassan, center, and her husband, Tom, great guests on Inauguration Day in 2013. Tom Hassan issued an apology Friday for how the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy handled allegations of sexual misconduct by a faculty member while he was the school's principal. Thomas Roy/Union Leader/File 

EXETER — Former Phillips Exeter Academy principal Tom Hassan has apologized for the school’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations against a faculty member who was forced to retire and later banned from campus.

Hassan, husband of Gov. Maggie Hassan, issued a statement Friday saying that Phillips Exeter administrators under his watch were trying to balance privacy concerns for the former student who brought the matter to the school’s attention.

“It’s clear in retrospect that we didn’t get that balance right,” Hassan 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.”

Hassan, who stepped down as principal last year, also said he accepted The Association of Boarding Schools board’s decision to censure him this week.

The association also revoked a leadership award given to longtime Exeter history instructor and administrator Rick Schubart in 2012, a year after he was forced to retire from the school following the first report of the allegations from two former students.

While Schubart was required to move out of his campus housing upon his retirement, he was not permanently barred from campus and all school events until last year when a second student came forward with allegations.

Opponents of Gov. Hassan, who is leaving the corner office after her second term and running for U.S. Senate, were quick to question the ways the prestigious prep school handled the Schubart situation.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who Hassan is expected to challenge in the general election, said in a statement that “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.” Ayotte did not mention either of the Hassans in the statement.

Maggie Hassan did not hold public office in 2011, announcing her bid to run for governor that October. She said this week that she was not aware of the specific allegations against Schubart because it was a confidential school matter.

Gov. Hassan told reporters at an event Friday that she “sensed something was wrong” because of Schubart’s abrupt departure, but was not sure of the specifics.

Schubart was listed among more than 100 community leaders endorsing Hassan’s gubernatorial campaign in a news release issued Oct. 27, 2011, the day she announced she was running.

Aaron Jacobs, a spokesman for Hassan’s Senate campaign, said Schubart and his wife also made small contributions, which the campaign is returning in the form of a donation to HAVEN, a nonprofit that provides support services and prevention education to those hurt by domestic and sexual violence.

Jacobs said the campaign is giving $1,000 to HAVEN, a member program of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

The donation is more than the contributions Schubart and his wife made to the campaign.

Phillips Exeter principal Lisa MacFarlane said in a letter sent to alumni this week that there were two cases of sexual misconduct involving Schubart and students in the 1970s and 1980s. The first was reported to the school in 2011 and the second last year, when Schubart was stripped of his emeritus status and barred from campus.

MacFarlane said in the letter that the school contacted authorities immediately after learning of the allegations from two former students accusing Schubart of misconduct. MacFarlane said Schubart acknowledged sexual misconduct in both cases.

Exeter police said investigators in 2011 determined a female student who accused Schubart of an inappropriate relationship in the 1970s was 18 at the time.

The other student who came forward and accused Schubart last year told police she couldn’t remember whether she was 17 or 18 when she was a student at the school in the 1980s.

Susan A. Nelson, board chair of the Association of Boarding Schools, said the organization censured Tom Hassan for not informing the organization of Schubart’s forced retirement and the allegations against him before Schubart received the Ruzicka Compass Premier Leadership Award for 2012, which the association vacated this week upon learning of the allegations.

Although Hassan did not join the association’s board himself until July 1, 2012 and had no role in nominating Schubart, Hassan was a board member for five months before the award was actually presented and did not advise anyone of the situation.

Tom Hassan was expected to take part in the ceremonial puck drop Saturday of the Battle of the Badges, a law enforcement versus firefighters charity hockey game at the Verizon Center in Manchester, but did not attend. The Hassans said “something came up.”

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