Information professor dies from pulmonary condition

By Ariana Assaf, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 3, 2013

Michael Cohen, a professor emeritus in the School of Information, the Ford School of Public Policy and the political science department, passed away on Saturday evening at about 9 p.m. as a result of a venal pulmonary edema, a condition that he developed while being treated for cancer.

Cohen began working at the University in 1973 as an assistant professor in the political science department and as a research scientist in the Institute of Public Policy Studies. He received a bachelor’s in history from Stanford University in 1966 and a Ph.D. in social science from the University of California, Irvine in 1972.

While at the University, Cohen co-founded and was named associate director of the Collaboratory for Research on Electronic Work in 1994, co-directed the Interdepartmental Committee on Organization Studies in 1995 and was a founding faculty member of the School of Information in 1996.

Although he retired last summer, Cohen remained involved with the University and participated in activities during the fall semester.

Cohen had terminal cancer and although treatments had been working well for the past few years, his health took an unfortunate turn in recent months.

Information School dean Jeff MacKie-Mason has known Cohen since 1980, when MacKie-Mason was working on his Masters in Public Policy from the University.

“I don’t need to tell any of you who ever interacted with him what a wonderful person he was: wise, kind, generous,” wrote MacKie-Mason in an e-mail sent out to School of Information students. “We will miss him terribly.”

He authored and edited a number of books and articles throughout his life that explored topics such as organizational studies, business practices and economics.

One of Cohen’s best-known articles, “A Garbage Can Model of Organizational Choice,” with Prof. James March of Stanford University and Norwegian political scientist Johan Olsen. The article deals with theories surrounding organizational decision-making processes, including those that use computer simulation.

In his most recent years, Cohen concentrated his research on “organizational effects of information technology” with a combination of laboratory-based studies, field research and computational models. One of his most recent studies, “Handoffs In Hospitals: Research For The Design Of Better Practices,” was conducted from 2007 to 2009.

A memorial service will take place soon, possibly next weekend and most likely on campus. Cohen’s family plans to create a scholarship fund in his honor, and asks that donations be made to the fund rather than giving flowers or other gifts.