Beloved UMSI professor Michael Cohen passes

Professor Emeritus Michael Cohen, a founding faculty member at the U-M School of Information who retired a little less than a year ago, passed away this weekend at 67 after a long and vigorous fight with cancer. His distinguished career at the University of Michigan included significant work in what is now the 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 this weekend. "We will miss him terribly."

Cohen's memorial service took place on Saturday, February 9, 2013 in the Rogel Ballroom of Michigan Union (2nd floor), 530 S. State Street, Ann Arbor.

A Facebook page has been created for people to share their memories about him. Please do share - the family receives them, and is collecting them.

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

Cohen was one of the faculty on board when UMSI 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, UMSI's faculty service award was renamed in his honor.

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

Cohen was also 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 UMSI 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 UMSI 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."

UMSI 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 has asked us to announce that they will be establishing a scholarship fund in his honor, and they ask that donations in lieu of flowers or other gifts be directed to this scholarship.

To give a gift to the Michael D. Cohen Memorial Scholarship:

By mail:
Send check made out to the University of Michigan & indicating the fund to:
Andrea Daly
University of Michigan School of Information
4389 North Quad
105 S. State St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Give online here
Via phone: Andrea Daly: 734-615-6502 or U-M Gift & Records: 1 888 518-7888
Via payroll deduction through Wolverine Access (for UM employees): instructions

Learn more about gifts to endowment funds.