Editorial: The impact of Hampshire College’s alums and faculty

  • Amherst's new town manager, Paul Bockelman, tours Town Hall on Monday, his first day on the job.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Since Hampshire College opened in South Amherst in 1970, many of its alums and faculty have flourished in its unique academic environment and gone on to become leaders in their fields.

Among them are alum Paul Bockelman, who this week completed his first year as Amherst town manager with strong reviews, and Raymond Coppinger, a founding faculty member and world-renowned canine researcher whose rich life was remembered after his death last week.

Bockelman, who was among Hampshire’s earliest graduates, said when he accepted the job last year as Amherst’s leader that he was excited to return to “the progressive, caring community” that he first got to know as a student four decades ago. He brought to the town manager’s job a breadth of professional experience and leadership skills sharpened by his previous jobs as administrator of Manchester-by-the-Sea and director of administration and finance for the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

Bockelman has not disappointed in Amherst, establishing himself as an affable, quick-learning manager who works hard to establish positive relationships across the community. “The result is that he has engendered good will within the community and it has afforded him the opportunity to build trust,” Select Board Chairman Douglas Slaughter wrote in Bockelman’s evaluation. “He is now positioned to be an extraordinarily effective manager because of that trust.”

Slaughter praised Bockelman’s attention to less fortunate residents of Amherst, including those who are homeless. “The manager recognized the importance of this area to the town and dedicated significant staff time as well as personal attention to ensure multiple successes in this area,” including changes at Craig’s Place that allows the shelter to accommodate more people.

Other Select Board members gave Bockelman similarly high marks. “Like his predecessor (the late John Musante), Mr. Bockelman displays great professional expertise and a professional demeanor. He has made clear his commitment to addressing the always thorny issues of staff morale, enhanced delivery of services, accountability, and public outreach,” said James Wald.

Among Bockelman’s initiatives to make government more accessible was starting a ”Cuppa Joe with Paul” that rotates among coffee shops where residents can talk informally with him and other town officials.

In true Hampshire fashion, Bockelman also thinks outside the box. He took to Twitter last spring to chide Starbucks about a damaged sign at its restaurant on North Pleasant Street that he believed had gone too long without repairs: “Hey @Starbucks How long before you fix this broken sign in the center of @TownOfAmherst? It’s been weeks.” The sign was fixed soon after.

Bockelman was rewarded with a 5 percent raise, which brings his annual salary to $162,750. The list of challenges for his second year includes promoting green energy and the potential transition to a new form of municipal government if voters in March approve the Charter Commission’s proposal to replace Town Meeting and the Select Board with a town council and town manager with expanded duties.

Also this week, former students, colleagues and friends offered tributes to Coppinger, a biologist who studied animal behavior and was among the first faculty hired by Hampshire in 1969. Coppinger, 80, of Montague, died of cancer Aug. 14.

Lorna Coppinger, who collaborated with her husband in researching and writing about dogs, said, “What he was first and foremost was a teacher, a teacher of students. Whether it was his students, or his family or his science, he was totally immersed in it.”

Coppinger’s passion for studying the behavior of dogs led to his blending scholarship with hobby when he competed as a musher in the late 1960s and early 1970s, racing sled dogs throughout New England. He was awarded Sportsman of the year in 1973 by the New England Sled Dog Club.

Also during the 1970s, the Coppingers researched sheep-guarding dogs around the world, eventually developing the Anatolian shepherd breed that significantly aided the non-lethal control of predators on ranches and farms across the United States.

“That made him very, very famous with the sheep breeders of the United States,” said Lynn Miller, another biologist who also was among the founding faculty at Hampshire. “And that was one of the aspects of Ray’s science —he was always looking to find answers to real problems.”

Even after he retired from Hampshire in 2005, Coppinger lectured worldwide about dog behavior and evolution throughout the world. And he never forgot his former students — as one Hampshire graduate said, “Once you’re a student of his, you’re a student of his for life.”

The leadership and commitment to make a difference demonstrated by Bockelman and Coppinger are typical of the scholars who have learned and taught at Hampshire College for nearly a half century. Such successes say more about the education Hampshire students receive than any college rating guide ever could.