The Lawrenceville School made headlines last September when Headmaster Liz Duffy announced the school’s ban of America’s oldest active tackle football league. And after a year of controversy and alumni outcry, it was quietly announced Duffy has not renewed her contract as headmaster and house tackle football is back — likely owing to a large and vocal outcry from Lawrenceville alumni.
At Duffy’s penultimate baccalaureate ceremony on May 31, she told the graduating body to “embrace the newness and uncertainty of your circumstance.”
Telling words, as this past year has greeted Duffy with a lot of “uncertainty” in the form of national press coverage of her safety-driven football ban. And on campus, Duffy and her administration were met with an anonymous letter from a “Lawrentian” calling out the school’s first female headmaster for performing poorly — and too liberally.
In the April email forwarded to alumni, families and current students by Lawrenceville parent Robert Castelo, the unnamed author — or authors — said that Duffy and the board of trustees put multiculturalism, globalization and alternative lifestyles before maintaining the school’s traditional standards:
“During the 11-year tenure of Headmaster Liz Duffy, Lawrenceville has increasingly forsaken the traditional core values that have sustained it for over two centuries, substituting values influenced by ideology and money,” the letter reads. “Of particular note, we found an engineered change in the demographics of the student body, a bloated and expensive administrative structure, and the demise of House sports which raises grave concerns about the viability of the House system as we have historically known it. We believe these changes have transformed and diminished the school from its standing as one of the pre-eminent American boarding schools, and the school’s basic philosophy has been remade without any meaningful notice to or input from its alumni. Some might describe Lawrenceville today as ‘PC Gone Wild.’”
The email further explained that members of a group called Concerned Lawrenceville Alumni interviewed headmasters from other prestigious boarding schools, and quoted the group saying Lawrenceville is “being led not by an educator but by an ideologue who knows nothing about education.”
Both the board of trustees and the senior staff — which includes Duffy — responded to the letter, saying the school prides itself in its progressive initiatives. The board of trustees also noted that “the job of headmaster at our school is a very difficult one and she [Duffy] has given it her all.’”
And though the school has become more liberal under Duffy’s leadership, according to 2014 graduate Andrew McLaughlin, house football has been restored along with a semblance of Lawrenceville tradition. McLaughlin explained that if participation allows, house tackle football will resume next school year. (RELATED: Oldest Full-Contact, Intramural High School Football League to Go Flag)
The 2014-2015 school year will be Duffy’s last, and according to the school’s weekly newspaper, The Lawrence, the boarding school is searching for her replacement.
Duffy concluded her resignation letter saying, “I’m not certain what I will do after I leave Lawrenceville in June 2015, but I look forward to discovering how I can make a significant difference in the world.”