News for faculty and staff

Contact | Past Issues

Week of February 11, 2013


Information professor Michael Cohen dies at 67

Professor Emeritus Michael Cohen, a founding faculty member at the School of Information (SI) who retired a little less than a year ago, recently died at age 67 after a long and vigorous fight with cancer. His distinguished career at U-M included significant work in what is now the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, where he was also professor emeritus.

“I don’t need to tell any of you who ever interacted with him what a wonderful person he was: wise, kind, generous,” said Dean Jeffrey MacKie-Mason in a statement. “We will miss him terribly.”

A Facebook page has been created for people to share their memories about him.

Cohen died with his family around him, including his wife Hilary, two daughters, and their families.

He was one of the faculty on board when SI was launched in its present form in 1996. He was beloved by students and colleagues for his personality and teaching style. In anticipation of his retirement, SI’s faculty service award was renamed in his honor.

The Michael D. Cohen Outstanding Service Award recognizes one SI faculty member each year. Faculty are honored for their commitment to excellence in serving the SI community. At the announcement, MacKie-Mason called Cohen “a peerless role model of selfless service to the school’s mission.”

Cohen also was known for his research, which has the potential to make significant impact on others’ lives.

Even in the last year, he concluded a study showing that changing the way emergency room personnel handle conversations when they hand off patients from one shift to another could make a meaningful difference in the tens of thousands of accidental deaths in hospitals each year. He continued his work with SI after his retirement, keeping his illness mostly private.

Jerry Davis, U-M professor of business and sociology and co-director of the Interdisciplinary Committee on Organization Studies, created a blog for memories of Cohen.

“Michael was a great friend, a brilliant scholar, a generous mentor, and a powerful community builder. He had a gift for seeing potential connections between people and ideas, and making them happen. His legacy at Michigan includes helping to build the Institute for Public Policy Studies into the Ford School of Public Policy, being a founding faculty member of the School of Information, and building ICOS into an internationally recognized community of organizational scholars,” he wrote.

“My heart is sad to hear of the loss of a great mentor and friend,” wrote SI alumna Sara Naab Schaff. “During my years at SI, I found myself wandering into Michael’s office whenever I felt a little lost or unsure of myself. He always happily received me and shared some insight that both taught and uplifted me. He had this humility that put everyone at ease paired with a brilliance and an ease of communicating that made you always want to hear more.”

SI Assistant Dean Judy Lawson described how she had spent time going through a dozen years of correspondence with Cohen. “The email that sums it up was in response to a request I sent to faculty for a student event:

“ ‘Judy: I’ll be there. ­—Michael’

“And he always was.”

MacKie-Mason had known Cohen since he had classes with him as a master’s student in policy in 1980, and worked with him for all of MacKie-Mason’s 29 years at Michigan. The dean declared him “one of my favorite teachers, here or anywhere.”

Cohen’s family said they will establish a scholarship fund in his honor.


Leave a comment

All fields are required.

email address will not be shown

Please enter the words you see below for anti-spam purposes:



Jeri Hollister, program assistant, Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, on her sculptures, “I started drawing horses again, and they were very abstract, so I thought I’d try making my drawings three-dimensional.”