John Palfrey has been named president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. He succeeds Julia Stasch, who has led the foundation since July 2014 and announced her departure in mid-2018.
Palfrey arrives in Chicago at MacArthur after leading Phillips Academy in Andover, MA as Head of School for nearly seven years. Under his direction, Phillips Academy has been one of the only academies in the country to truly practice a need-blind admissions process.
Prior to his time leading Phillips Academy, Palfrey was chair of the board of trustees at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Florida for nearly eight years. During this time, he also led the Boston-based Digital Public Library of America initiative as president of its board of directors. He successfully steered the efforts to create this national digital library system and lay the groundwork for its expansion before being succeeded by Amy Ryan, president of the Boston Public Library.
The longest stint of Palfrey’s career began in 2003 in the nonprofit political sphere as one of four principle investigators for the OpenNet Initiative which seeks to protect the free flow of information on the internet and protect privacy. His expertise in all things digital and online led to him working for Highland Capital Partners as a venture executive during this time as well; leading the investment firm’s internet and digital media portfolios.
Palfrey’s career first got its start in law at Ropes & Gray LLP, where he was hired as an associate after the completion of his juris doctor degree from Harvard Law School. This position saw him working on intellectual property-related litigation and private equity deals.
Soon, he would make the move to the nonprofit sector and serve as executive director of the MacArthur-supported Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society from 2002 to 2008. In addition to this and working on the OpenNet initiative, the always busy Palfrey also returned to Harvard as a professor of law and vice dean of library and information resources.
As he arrives to lead the MacArthur Foundation, Palfrey brings with him cross-sector experience in education, philanthropy, law and politics.
“I am honored to lead the MacArthur Foundation during such a critical time, when challenges facing people and our planet can seem insurmountable, but the tools of social change are evolving to be even more powerful,” said Palfrey in a press release about the appointment. “I am an optimist, who believes that creativity, rigor, and selective disruption can make outsized social impact possible. I look forward to working with MacArthur’s talented and dedicated Board, staff, and grantees in Chicago, across the nation, and around the world.”
John Palfrey officially assumes the duties of his office at the head of the MacArthur Foundation Sept. 1, 2019.