Obituary: David Schimmel, Professor Emeritus of Education

David Schimmel
David Schimmel

David M. Schimmel, 84, of Amherst, professor emeritus of educational policy, research and administration (EPRA), has died.

Born March 30, 1934, in Baltimore, Maryland, he received a B.A in political science from Duke University, a B.H.L from Hebrew Union College, Los Angeles, and a J.D. in 1958 from Yale Law School, where he won a national legal essay contest on “Law and Disarmament.”

He served as a second lieutenant in the Army.

He practiced law in Baltimore and was admitted to the Maryland Bar and in 1963 to the U.S. Supreme Court.

With Harris Wofford, later a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, he served as an assistant to Hubert Humphrey. Schimmel and Wofford came up with the idea for the Peace Corps, and Humphrey promoted it during the 1960 presidential campaign until John F. Kennedy defeated him in the West Virginia primary, after which Kennedy took the idea as his own. Kennedy charged his brother-in-law Sargent Shriver with getting the Peace Corps off the ground, and Schimmel worked with him in the Peace Corps’ early years, serving in administrative posts from 1962-68.

He joined UMass Amherst in 1968 as an associate professor in education, and he retired from EPRA in the College of Education in 2009. He worked post-retirement in same department from 2009-14 and in Continuing and Professional Education from 2010-11.

His teaching, research and writing focused on promoting legal literacy for teachers. 

In the forerunner of what would become EPRA, he worked with both international education and educational leadership faculty. Along with faculty member Lou Fischer, he wrote books on the civil rights of students and the civil rights of teachers. A survey of education leadership graduates who became principals indicated that they considered his “law for educational leaders” course to be the most useful course for their jobs.

He was the author or coauthor of more than 75 articles and seven books about law and education, including “Principals Teaching the Law: 10 Legal Lessons Your Teachers Must Know” and “Teachers and the Law,” 9th Edition.

He was the recipient of the Education Press Association of America’s Distinguished Achievement Award for Excellence in Educational Journalism, the Education Law Association’s McGhehey Award for lifetime achievement, and the UMass Amherst’s Distinguished Academic Outreach Award.

Cynthia Gerstl-Pepin, dean of the College of education, said, “David played a campus-wide role in at least two ways. One was his activities related to promoting civility. The other was in launching the campus effort to create service-learning programs and courses. David devoted his life to legal literacy and civic engagement and was the co-founder of the university's Citizen Scholars’ Program that promotes social justice through citizen action.” 

He leaves his wife of 57 years, Barbara; his children Sue, John, and Josie, their spouses Shawn, Christine, and Len; and his sister, Bella.

A celebration of his life will be held this summer at the Amherst Jewish Community Center.

Donations in his memory can be made to Bend the Arc: Jewish Action ( or to one of three funds in his name: The Schimmel Maloy Fund for Civic Engagement and Learning, The Schimmel Keene Citizen Scholar Endowment, and The Schimmel Fischer Endowment for Legal Literacy.