In memory of Michael Cohen

A symposium to honor Michael’s scholarly legacy, September 6, 2013

ICOS, the Ford School of Public Policy, the School of Information, and Administrative Science Quarterly organized a symposium on Michael’s work on September 6, 2013.  Video of the conference will be available soon.  For now, a moving tribute from Jim March is on YouTube here:


Michael Cohen passed away Saturday, February 2 after a long battle with cancer. His family was at his bedside.

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.

Michael nurtured countless students and junior faculty to become mature scholars. He was also exceedingly modest and avoided the limelight, letting the power of his ideas carry their own weight. For a (near-)native Californian, he epitomized the Midwestern virtues.

You are welcome to share your memories of Michael here.


69 thoughts on “In memory of Michael Cohen

  1. Pingback: RIP Michael Cohen, UM Org Theorist « A (Budding) Sociologist's Commonplace Book

  2. This is sad news, indeed. Michael was willing to help anyone any time with any problem they had. And he did it with abundant free energy (and usually a smile). I will miss him as a friend and enthusiastic supporter.

  3. I met Michael when I arrived on campus in 2008 for my first job, trying to find my way around its vastness. Within 10 minutes of conversation, it seemed that Michael had known me forever. Over the coming years, bumping into Michael was one of the highlights of whatever week in which it occurred. His intellectual breadth was astounding, yet never condescending or intimidating. He would suggest one or another person who I “might want to meet”. In several cases those have grown into enduring, highly productive collaborations. Other times he would ask me what I was thinking about, and simply but quietly suggest some completely unseen but vital path forward.

    That would be more than enough for Michael to count as having made a very significant contribution to my intellectual development — as well as a significant contribution to the fun of being a junior faculty member at Michigan. But I also started reading Michael’s writings on organizational routines, and on the structure of hand-offs in hospitals. I found that these fundamentally changed my practice as a physician — not in some vague theoretical way, but in very concrete and pragmatic ways. He taught me how to take better care of patients. Every time I am on clinical service, tucked in with the classic randomized controlled trials and fundamental physiology, I shareand teach an article by Michael Cohen on patient hands-offs to help my residents be better doctors.

    Michael was a brilliant man, a wonderful human being, and will be very much missed — even as he continues to teach us.

    — Jack

    • What a huge sadness. I count myself as one of the lucky ones – first a student and then as a sort of collaborator – applying his work to improve safety in healthcare. Just two weeks ago I taught a collection of internal medicine, family practice, and psychiatry residents on the topic of hand-offs. This based on Michael’s work. I spoke of his work to Diane Pinakiewicz who agreed that it is of significant importance for patient safety and should have prominence at the National Patient Safety Foundation annual conference. There is that – and the fact that he will be missed in so many ways in so many places. Kindness and brilliance together are so rare.

    • So sad to hear! I never met Michael in person, being introduced to him by Jack. Over telephone conversations, and writing together a manuscript, I was delighted to learn from a distance from such a collaborative, brilliant and profoundly knowledgeable person. One could tell from his comments in manuscript notes how Michael thought and helped you see things more clearly. The concepts I learned from him had the power to feel like they’ve always been there in your mind, but of course, they were only there after Michael had opened the door.

      What a great loss for all of us.

  4. Very sad news. He was the first instructor that I had when I began the SI Masters program. His enthusiasm was contagious. My condolences to his family and friends.

  5. My heart is sad to hear of the loss of a great mentor and friend. 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. His passion for changing the world was inspiring and he lived with a dedication to empower his students not only to learn but to use knowledge to make the world a better place. I have always admired this and have long tried to emulate it.

    Over the years since I graduated, I have kept in touch and met up for coffee whenever I happened to find myself in Ann Arbor. Just as in my grad school days, Michael always had time to catch up and our meetings felt timeless as I caught up on news from SI and shared my own stories. Michael’s spirit as warm as his smile. His wisdom ageless. I always left those dates feeling full of life. To all the close family and friends, I send my deepest prayers and warm thoughts during your grief. May you be uplifted by the broad community that stretches around the world who hold a piece of MDC in their heart. He lives in in each of the lives he touched.

  6. Michael was a wonderful mentor. Whenever I tried to complain to him about some minor irritation of academic life, he would suggest I look at the situation in a different way, in a way where I could be of greater help and use to others, namely a bit more like him. I would end up feeling sheepish, a feeling he easily dispelled with a warm smile and laugh.
    I am grateful to be one of the many this great man and kind colleague has helped guide, and for the treasures, e.g. sailing on lake Erie on a warm and relaxed summer day, he opened my eyes to.

  7. Michael inspired me in a lot of different ways when I was at U Mich. His teaching on Organizations was so inspiring that I started to go to the ICOS seminar, which led me to PhD study in the related field. I am so grateful for his time with me on various subjects related to study. But more importantly, he always guided me in a very personal way, always caring for his students. Like the comments above, I always loved his smile, and will remember it as his trademark – caring and at the same time serious smile.

    Michael, thank you so much. You will always be one of the best teachers and mentors I’ve ever met in my life.

  8. I remember a warm summer day on a boat out of Stord, when we found a fishing boat with fresh shrimp in Hardangerfjord, and the Captain taught me that “shit” meant “dirt” in Norwegian, while a long-legged woman in a bikini kept us on course, and we drank beer. Even today, I can hear your calm and gentle chuckle as I, 16 years old that summer, took a picture to remember. Forty-two years later and It hasn’t gotten any better than that, Michael.

    You always had a smile on your face and a kind word of encouragement. Thank you for being so generous with your time and attention.

  9. I was one of the lucky ones . I had the true pleasure of working with Michael. We co-led ICOS for many years together(8 I think). This meant every Friday during the school year I had the joy of co-hosting organizational scholars as they came to Michigan to share their research. It also meant we worked together with students who had enrolled in the course. Michael defined the idea of generous scholar. He always made people feel so welcomed into this interdisciplinary space. He would ask the toughest questions in the kindest ways, that always allowed the other person to shine. He never gave up on a students. He thought each student was special and deserved a chance. He really took the time to answer questions on email or face-to-face. He always invested in other people first. He was such a brilliant person with deeply grounded ideas. He loved John Dewey and did a lot to help our community remember his contributions. His love for his family shone brightly in everything he did. He will be greatly missed. With deep gratitude,to Michael. Jane Dutton

  10. I’m so sad to learn of Michael’s passing. Michael made the time to get to know all the members of the ICOS community. I am grateful he took an interest in helping me conceptualize my dissertation research back in 2000. This was such a selfless act. Our only connection was ICOS. I attended lectures (was not enrolled in the course), yet he invested in my development by sharing his valuable feedback and encouragement. He was a brilliant, unassuming, and kind person.

  11. Meetings with Michael always meant time that I valued, a space where the goal was simply to think on how to make the hospital a better place. His gracious, thoughtful manner, his careful insights while parsing physician and nursing handoff rituals – that spark of certain, personal knowledge that there could be a better way, a safer way for patients and his desire to contribute to that – these are all memories that I treasure and that quietly inspire the hope that change can make a better future. I am grateful.

  12. There is so much that can be said about Michael and so much that already has been said more eloquently than I could. I think my feelings about him are wonderfully summed up by a recent Facebook comment from Prof. Paul Edwards: “I still want to be Michael when I grow up.” His caring, passion for his work, ability to put you at ease and know the right think to say and generousness with his time and knowledge are just a few the traits that I can only hope to aspire to. As role models go, I couldn’t ask for a better one.

  13. I feel so fortunate to have known Michael. When I came to Michigan, Michael welcomed me to the campus community with open arms. I’d known Hilary at Wild Swan Theater for many years before I landed at Michigan, so Michael and I’d known each other in circles outside the campus. Like with so many others, Michael quietly and often would ‘connect’ me to someone else on campus – he was a generous and joyful person who liked to see people find their way to each other. It also seemed like everyone he connected to me was also ‘good people.’

    The world has lost a bit of its kindness with the passing of Michael Cohen. My heart goes out to Hilary and their daughters and families. And also to his closest colleagues here on campus, who have lost a rare kind of friend and collaborator.

    I will miss him, and I will miss knowing he’s in the world.

  14. I’m shocked and saddened by the news of Michael’s sudden passing. Michael and I first crossed paths when I took the ICOS seminar as a doctoral student. Since then we had an ongoing and stimulating conversation about the world of organizations and architecture, and his sagely advice and timely pointers immeasurably helped me refine and crystallize my ideas on the salient aspects of this topic. I’ll always remember him as a warm and generous person, and a gregarious scholar who really helped shape ICOS into the truly unique interdisciplinary community that it is. Michael will be truly missed.

  15. I will so miss Michael and his untimely death shocked me. Only a month ago we had a delightful lunch together as I wanted his advice on retirement and on his choice of computer technology. As always, we shared stories about our children. Michael’s daughter, Rachel and my daughter Betsy were good friends graduating in the same class at Pioneer High School. He was a wonderful friend and colleague.

  16. I was lucky to work with Michael at ICOS when Jane was on sabbatical one year and I became a temporary co-director. He was a thoughtful and kind colleague, who could speak as well and clear about complex systems or John Dewey as he could his delight in his family. He was patient and encouraging with everyone with whom he worked. All that’s been said above rings true for my memories too. He will be sadly missed by ICOS and so many others. My deep condolences to his family.

  17. As a non-traditional MSI student from the mid-2000s, I have the same memories of Michael as many of those who posted above: his warm smile, his genuine interest in any conversation shared, the right words of advice – tailored just for the listener -, and time for each person he saw. He always gave the impression the time he spent with you was the most important thing in his day. My top class at SI was his seminar where we worked directly with the Ann Arbor Homeless Shelter and made a difference. Personally, Michael was the professor who best exemplified the SI connections of people, technology, and information. I’m blessed to have known him.

  18. Michael epitomized the intellectual curiosity, graciousness, and professionalism that characterize the organizations community at the University of Michigan. He brought a wonderful warmth and sense of humor to every conversation. I can still conjure up that distinctive voice and hearty laugh. They will both be much missed in ICOS and everywhere else he sat down to have an interesting conversation with a lucky colleague. It is an enormous loss.

  19. There was never a sparkle in any eyes brighter than Michael’s. What still astounds me is that for 35 years, I’ve known that Michael was as perfectly and appropriately giving with any other student as he was to me, but I still couldn’t help feeling the extra lift of being really loved that that sparkle imparted. As if the best spirit in the world had just given me a gift. – which he had.

    Michael was pivotal in teaching us to think not only critically, but also appreciatively. The deep and gentle care to to think things through thoroughly, to be open to surprising results, and to find ways that analysis could serve a greater good, he taught us seemingly effortlessly. His thoughtful insights into parenting, life transitions, and human foibles always soothed the frazzled soul by reminding us, underneath it all, that life is really interesting and therefore good, even when it doesn’t feel that way.

    Michael (and Hilary’s) offer to let me babysit their daughters helped me transition from a teenager rushing through college and grad school at top speed to becoming a more thoughtful young woman,and a better parent when that day came. Their presence in my emotional as well as my spatial geography has always been a landmark to help guide me. Michael’s part of that beacon will shine from farther and through more darkness for the next 35 years of my life. But it will always be there.

    May the memories so many are sharing help us reflect that light still farther for generations to come, so his memory will always be for a blessing.

  20. I only was in Michael’s presence a handful of times, hosting parties in each other’s home and greeting at public events. In those times he had a unique blend of brilliance and kindness that initially bordered on innocence but soon was recognized as an opening to a special grounded soul. We last saw each other a few weeks ago. He asked about myself and congratulated me on being a cancer survivor. I had no idea that he was a comrade in this struggle until I received the news this afternoon. May he rest not only in peace but also his family know that he was appreciated even by those who barely passed through the fringes of his life.

  21. I am deeply grateful to have been able to study with, work with, and teach with Michael Cohen. While I was at UMich, he always defended my unorthodox approach and sincerely encouraged me to stay true to my own path, even when that path eventually led me away from academia. His faith in my abilities and insights gave me the strength to continually challenge myself in new ways. Furthermore, his kindness, graciousness, humility, and generosity, always uplifted my spirits.

    Paraphrasing Paul Edwards, I think I’ll always keep finding myself trying to be Michael Cohen.

  22. I was profoundly influenced by my exposure to Michael, as was my team in the Office of Clinical Affairs at University Hospital. Our activities are more isolated from the main campus than they should be, but Michael made the perfect transition, bringing his academic expertise, and also his basic common sense to our regular “patient safety rounds” at the bedside. His subject was “hand-offs”-the transfer of information from various personnel, which is often flawed in the busy hospital environment. But Michael, in his self effacing, and good hearted way, brought even the most complicated communications mess into clear focus, and offered practical solutions anyone could use to improve the care of the patient. This was real boots on the ground application of his prodigious intellectual abilities, and I think this is what he enjoyed the most.
    I was with him a few hours before he died-he held my hand and asked with a weak voice, but strong spirit, that we “continue to do good things”. All of us in the hospital are terribly saddened, but also we have gained so much from our exposure to this remarkable person. We will try to continue to do good things, but it will be more difficult without Michael Cohen.

  23. I am having such a hard time imagining a world without Michael. At every step of my career, Michael has been there. We met in the 70’s when I was just starting graduate school and Michael was already an established scholar. I remember many long walks discussing decision making, information and routines. Rather dull topics to many, but never to Michael. Ever curious and challenging, he made others into better scholars. The picture on this website captures so well a gaze that many of us know well. Sitting in the audience, Michael would always be the one smiling and nodding, his rapt attention spurring you on. It is a sad day when his light is no longer with us.

  24. Many certainly knew Michael far better than I did. But I thought I would nonetheless say a few things. He left an indelible impression on me.

    I first met Michael at a conference I co-organized in Helsinki. My first chance to meaningfully interact with him was on the ferry from downtown Helsinki to the nearby island where the conference was to be held. Michael had an extremely relaxed manner about him, and before I knew it we were engaged in a highly interdisciplinary discussion about causation in the history of the world. It was quickly evident to me that Michael was different. No topic seemed to be outside his realm of expertise, curiosity and interest. He was wildly interdisciplinary. For a young scholar, talking to him was pure intellectual joy. I thought back to that interaction frequently. He was a scholar’s scholar, with amazing intellectual breadth.

    Subsequent to that interaction, Michael was kind enough to write a short essay for a special issue we later edited. Here’s his essay: Perceiving and Remembering Routine Action.

    Just two months ago, Michael came and visited our school. He was working with a colleague of mine, Curtis LeBaron. I had a chance to visit with him one-on-one (and over lunch again), and the discussion once again was (for me) breathtaking: art, religion, complexity theory, Dewey, computer science, economics, routines and evolution, etc. Again I marveled at his breadth, and his passion. I brought up names and ideas (surely he had not read this obscure stuff?!), from 17th and 18th century rationalism and romanticism, poetry, and sure enough he was more than familiar with it all. As in Finland, I ended up with a set of things I needed to read (I just pulled up his reading recommendations from that meeting: his Complexity book with Axelrod, the work of Barfield, etc).

    Michael will obviously be remembered for his research, particularly his famous garbage can model. I’m guessing he’ll also be remembered for his intellectual curiosity and breadth. Each of the interactions I had with him was memorable. It was evident to me that he was interested in ideas, just for ideas sake. Refreshing. There was no agenda. And, he was just nice. Really nice. I also loved his passion for interdisciplinary investigation. He was a rare Herbert Simon-type, throwback scholar who was comfortable talking to anyone in any discipline.

    Michael will be missed.

    I also posted the above here –

    • This is indeed very sad. I only knew Michael for a short period of time. He was nice enough to take a look @ soem of my work and give me feedback though he was not my mentor. He was always easy to talk to, down to earth and smart.

  25. Thirty-five years ago, Michael entered my life. Never did I look forward to a class more than I did with organizational design. Michael introduced me to terms like satisficing and troozle and exit/voice/loyalty and garbage cans — ideas that are as vivid for me today as he made them in 1978. Even more, he exemplified an emotional generosity that was more profound and genuine than anything I have ever seen in another teacher.

    In the intervening years, Michael was the perfect mentor. Whether it was about parenting, teaching, working as an academic administrator, or facing difficult life challenges, he was always ready to talk, to listen, and to ask penetrating questions, all the while exuding support and love. Over time and distance, our interactions became less frequent, but his brilliance as an inspiration has never flickered.

  26. I was terribly saddened to hear this news. Michael reached out to me as a fellow hand-off researcher a few years ago with the kindest and most generous e-mail I have received before or since from a colleague. I subsequently read many of his papers as they appeared and found them exceedingly insightful, most remarkably given his “outsider” status as a non-physician. I have learned a great deal from him over the years. I only met Michael in person once but even that occasion was a testament to his warmth and natural inclination for mentorship. He helped organize a session on handoffs at a conference I would never otherwise have attended – and convinced just about everyone who had written on the topic to attend. We had a full day workshop that was absolutely fantastic, that enabled me for the first time to meet in person all the people whose work I had been reading for years, and which then yielded at least one collaborative published paper. Indeed, it was Brian Hilligoss, who co-organized that conference, who alerted me to Michael’s death. I extend my deepest condolences to his family – if you did not already know, I hope you recognize now how far and wide his influence ranged and how generous he was with his time and mentorship to those of us in the field.

  27. To me, Michael is the epitome of a Michigan scholar – open, engaged, aspiratonal, tough, and modest. He really (along with Jane Dutton) set the culture of ICOS, a wonderful Michigan institution. And his smile….I loved his smile. It brightened the room and softened the feedback he sometimes had for you on your work. I loved how he contributed. He was a role model for us all. Recently a colleague presented a paper on which I am a co-author and I sat in the audience. I was a bit disappointed in Michael. He kept opening his laptop and typing….for most of us, that would have meant being sucked into email or other pressing concerns. I should never have doubted Michael. When I made my way back to my office, an email from Michael was there – he had been jotting down all of his thoughts during the entire talk – and had already gotten them to me and my colleague! He was amazing. He will be sorely missed. What a tough year for Michigan as we’ve lost two of the greats in Michael and Mayer. It is up to us now to carry on his sense of what a great interdisciplianary community can be. He role modeled the way, but it will be sad to carry on the journey without him. RIP Michael. You were loved.

  28. Michael was a brilliant scholar, and one of the most creative thinkers I’ve ever known. I can’t count the number of times he came up with a way of looking at something that made me shake my head with amazement. But he was also one of the most decent, generous, warm human beings I’ve had the privilege of knowing. He just oozed “positive energy.” He had that sparkle in his eye, and every conversation I ever had with him left me feeling like I was on top of the world. It’s hard to imagine Michael not being here. But he always will be.

  29. I’m in shock. It was last December that we attended a lunch meeting held by the ICOS executive committee. He looked great then–sharp, engaging, vigorous–and we had a lively conversation. What happened?!… Michael was an intellectual giant and an idol of mine since my doctoral student years at Michigan. And he was one of the reasons I so looked forward to coming back to Michigan and rejoining the ICOS family. Michael, you’re terribly missed.

  30. While my interactions with Michael were modest in number, they were always high in quality. Whenever we met, I could immediately sense that I was with someone who was both a creative thinker and a caring person. Michael, you will be truly missed

    • Michael Cohen. Michael Cohen. Michael Cohen. He along with Pat Crecine at IPPS made me who I am. In the 1970s, when he and I both were still technically young, he had the greater wisdom to exude and therefore impart curiosity, intellectual purpose, moral seriousness, and yes that smile everyone talks about to an ill formed and floundering piece of protoplasm (me). I learned a few ideas from Michael, but more importantly I learned intellectual passion. Michael obviously went on to touch many other lives deeply for many decades to come. But I count myself privileged to have been among the first he blessed. That was a long, long time ago, but Michael Cohen has never left me. Measured on scales that make our usual ones seem trivial, he was a great man.

  31. A dear friend has left us in body but not without the great immortal gift of his large loving spirit. I loved Michael as a colleague and as a friend. Intellectually we differed in lively ways. He loved Dewey, I loved Aquinas, and we met at Pierce (but of course he understood all three better than me!). Perhaps the main thing that struck me in being with him over the years was the feeling that he had singled-me out for special attention and only good wishes. Reading the testimonials on this page I am grateful to be reminded that that is what a good friend does. Thank you dear friend, for everything.

  32. I only knew Michael through attending ICOS and through his work, but I had such a strong feeling of loss and sadness when I heard about his news this morning. Michigan’s campus always attracts me with its magical power because I know I can encounter the most brilliant scholars anywhere and they will welcome me and inspire me. Michael is such an iconic scholar in my heart and seeing him around is enough to make me feel proud of being a Wolverine. It’s hard for me to imagine an ICOS seminar without Michael’s heart-warming smiles and brilliant comments. But we certainly have a role model to look up to and memorize. I think this is what a truly influential scholar does.

  33. I met Michael only once but communicated with him on several occasions. I sought his feedback on various topics and he was always there to help with penetrating insights and gentle critique. I will miss him very much. Michael was one of our field’s founders and I wish we will carry on his legacy in a way that will honor his vast contributions.

  34. This is devastating news, especially for those of us who had no idea in the world that Michael had any health problems beyond the usual academic headaches. Michael has been my close friend for just about fifty years. We were early and green faculty members together in the Institute of Public Policy Studies from the ’60s, members of a very small band that tried to do something strong and notable with this new field. Michael’s contribution was exceptional, not only in academic terms but in human terms, an aspect that was critical for our success. Michael was loved. He’ll always be loved. There’s no replacing him in the world. It won’t be the same. So long, Michael. Thanks for all you’ve been.

  35. The last time I saw Michael was on a trip back to Ann Arbor – he was with his wife in Café Zola, having brunch and surrounded by the Sunday paper, in his jeans and with that ever-present wonderful twinkle in his eye. He was so kind, warm, and genuinely interested in reconnecting and talking. This is a giant loss for Michigan and for us all. What he helped create there will endure for many, many years.

  36. I first met Michael back in the 1970s. He was a student of Jim March, founding Dean of the School of Social Sciences at UC Irvine. Michael was in the PhD program in Social Sciences; I was in the Masters of Science in Administration program in the Graduate School of Administration. I realized right away that Michael was one of those special people that you want to hang out with. Not only did I learn an amazing amount from him, he seemed to learn from me. (I never figured out whether he really did learn from me, but he sure made me think he did!) Michael soon left with Jim for Stanford, where Jim moved after being Dean at UCI. I did not see him often after that. But we stayed in touch.

    The first time I visited Michigan was at Michael’s invitation, to give a talk at IPPS. I had gotten my PhD and was on the faculty at UCI by that point. It was a memorable experience, flying the now defunct TWA from LAX through St. Louis in a real blizzard: I thought the plane was going to crash. We were stuck in St. Louis for hours before I could get the connecting flight to DTW. I arrived late, flustered. Michael just laughed. I then realized that it really was pretty funny. Michael had a way of making me laugh at things. It was one of his most valuable traits.

    There is no question that I would never have come to Michigan if not for Michael. He was Chair of the Dean Search Committee for the School of Information, and he talked me through the questions I had. He and Hilary had me, my wife Kathleen and our son Matthew over to their house where my son saw fireflies for the first time in his life. When I joined SI as Dean in January of 2000 Michael was the first person to make me laugh. He was also the wisest of advisers, telling me things I wasn’t thinking about but needed to think about. I remember going to Michael after a discussion with one of the deans of the Medical School about the problems the health system faced given the new federal constraints on the hours residents could spend at work. Wouldn’t this create some kind of “information” problems? Michael immediately said “This is important.” That was enough for me: I arranged a field trip to the hospital for some SI faculty members, including Michael, where we talked with residents about “handoffs.” Little did I know Michael would go on to make important contributions in that area, but he did. His taste in things to work on was impeccable.

    It is a grievous loss to lose Michael. But even now I can laugh through the tears, thanks to him.

  37. I would not be where I am today without Michael.

    Michael opened up my world. He encouraged my research ambitions and generously shared his passion for organization studies and complexity theory. He played intellectual matchmaker and helped me find my PhD advisor, a gift for which I will forever be grateful. Michael’s infectious laugh and compassionate mentorship are among the most precious memories from my MSI days.

    Although I am deeply saddened that he is no longer with us, I will always be thankful that I had the good fortune to know Michael. He was not only one of the finest professors I’ve ever encountered, he was also one of the finest human beings I’ve ever known.

  38. Michael first entered my life 40 years ago when he welcomed me to Jim March’s research family at Stanford. Over coffee, lunch, wine, Michael gently helped me figure out answers to questions I didn’t even know how to ask. He made me feel smart. In subsequent years Michael and I worked together on several conferences and edited volumes. His quiet insistence on clarity and quality made wrangling headstrong academics almost fun and always improved the final product.

    Whenever Michael and I talked we would begin by bringing each other up to date on our families. He took such great delight in Hillary, Rachel, and Amy. My heart goes out to them and to all of Michael’s family of students and colleagues.

  39. Between my finger and my thumb
    The squat pen rests.
    I’ll dig with it.

    Seamus Heaney

    I often ran into Michael underneath the West Hall archway. Brief interactions. Moments where he would encourage me to think and not follow. Once, I mentioned that a project I was pursuing struck me as rather low fruit, and Michael, eyes glistening, replied, “it’s only really low fruit, Scott, if you have to dig for it.”

    Two memories come specifically to mind. This summer, Michael and Hilary took Jenna, the boys and I sailing. Michael encouraged and challenged our sons, Orrie and Cooper, having them toss ropes, tie cleats, and steer the boat. These tasks offered the possibility of failure, but the boys felt no fear of admonishment. To the contrary, they – as well as Jenna and I – sensed he was sharing a passion the pursuit of which contains no failure. He also recognized when they were flagging and steered back in so that the day would end well for all. He even shared a story about rescuing a man who had fallen off a boat and been floating for hours. The boys were captivated. Jenna and I could only smile. How appropriate, Michael Cohen rescuing yet one more person adrift at sea, about to drown. How often he did that in the academy.

    Second, one not so special day early in our time here at Michigan, Jenna and I were grabbing a hurried lunch of Jimmy John’s sandwiches. We were sitting on the concrete wall near the Natural Science Building. Michael saw us from across the way and came walking over with a look of pure delight. He said something along the lines of of “This is so wonderful. I’m going to treasure this moment. Just seeing the two of you enjoying each other’s company. How great.” He transformed the most quotidian event — a lunch – into something sublime through a moment’s kindness. Only a person who truly loved his life partner and who appreciated that the fullness of life consists primarily of small treasured moments could produce such a gift.

  40. I didn’t know Michael well, just well enough to be intimidated by him. But is wasn’t just his intellect; it was his humanity. I couldn’t get past a guy being that complete.

    David Tucker

  41. I’ve so appreciated seeing this page of remembrances grow over the past few days, and seeing Michael’s engaged and inquisitive face on my computer screen. It’s helped me to absorb the deep sadness I feel at the thought of a world without a living Michael D. Cohen in it. I am lucky to have called Michael my colleague, collaborator, and friend for the last decade or so. He was a member of my PEP Lab at U Michigan for a number of years before I moved to Chapel Hill (and yes, we did frequently call him “Michael D. Cohen” because my lab at that time also included “Michael A Cohn”, and they each went by Michael, never Mike). I came to deeply respect and admire Michael’s understated way of elevating the ideas and people in his midst as well as his deep wisdom. I will continue to consult him, now only in my mind, when I need advice on how best to navigate difficult situations or unexpected findings. With respect to the latter, my lab is only now more fully understanding a set of unexpected findings from the collaborative research he and my team did with the cooperative card game Michael invented to study organizational routines. We will continue on with that project in loving memory of his many and deep contributions to it. And we will miss him dearly.

  42. I did not have the pleasure of having Michael as a close advisor or colleague, but knew him from a (not too far) distance, like so many others. With peers who were his advisees, and sharing mutual co-authors, I benefited from his intellect, his wit, and the care he put into everything he said and did. With Michael as one of the ICOS directors when I first started off as a student at Michigan, I was drawn into the world of ideas into which he ushered so many of us. My favorite memories may be the 2005 ICOS retreat, where Michael led the way in putting the word “fun” into “research”, and a final set of comments from a friendly review he gave to a paper of mine on routines last August, where he honored my attempts to build on his legacy, while at the same time not mincing words about the hard work it would take to really make a solid contribution. Michael, you will always be one of the icons I want to be when I finally grow up.

    • I was first introduced to Michael as a doctoral student when I was assigned his “garbage can” paper. I remember how I struggled to get my head around those ideas but eventually I came to deeply appreciate the rich insight in those ideas. I enjoyed getting to know Michael through his leadership of ICOS. He had such a warm way of connecting with people and always reaching out to offer a hand in some way. A couple years my brother-in-law was also diagnosed with prostate cancer. Michael was so generous with sharing his experience and recommendations on treatments and approaches. He cared so much for someone he didn’t even know but who was going through a difficult time that he could help. Thank you Michael.

  43. Michael has left an amazing legacy to the world, with only the tip of it visible in the above comments. What’s astonishing is that like several others have mentioned, I corresponded with Michael several times over the past 6 months & had no idea how ill he was. He was as generative & helpful as always, recommending readings, encouraging a line of thought, and being a helpful & supportive colleague. I’m saddened to think of his passing but heartened to realize how deeply this humble man has touched all of us.

  44. Muy querido Michael,
    tu partida es tan abrumadora que solo queda aferrarse a los momentos que vivimos contigo para consolar el dolor que sentimos.
    Gracias por tus consejos, ideas, apoyo y sabiduria.
    Gracias por compartir tantos momentos de familia.
    Gracias por ensenarle a Pedro a disfrutar de las cosas sencillas
    Gracias por guiar a Matias durante sus estudios con palabras que guardamos para siempre en el cajon de la sabiduria
    Gracias por abrazar a Ema cuando solo tenia dias
    Gracias por empujarme a “continue to do good things” …
    Gracias por creer en mi !!
    Gracias por mostrarle al mundo que es posible amar hasta el infinito en cada gesto hacia tu Hilary
    Gracias por tu sonrisa
    Gracias por ser parte de mi vida y la de mi familia.
    Gracias Michael por ser para siempre un modelo para nuestras vidas.
    Con profundo pesar y acompanando en el dolor a Hilary, Rachel y Amy, desde Chile todo el carino de:
    Ema, Pedro, Matias y Maite

  45. I had the fortune of taking one of Michael’s classes in my first semester. I will always remember his smile which showed his wisdom and compassion. Like so many people at SI, I too once went to his office seeking solutions to my problems. I don’t remember his exact advice, but I remember leaving with caring words from someone who cared about me.

    The world needs more Michael Cohens. My condolences are with his family and friends.

  46. Michael was my advisor when I got my Master’s at SI, and when I think of my time there, Michael anchors many of my best memories.

    On my first visit to Ann Arbor, when I was trying to figure out where I’d end up for Grad school, he bought me a cup of coffee at Cava Java and just listened to me babble about what I thought I wanted to do in the world. I remember I’d already had two cups of coffee earlier, but I didn’t want to turn down his offer, so I drank my very first cup of decaffeinated coffee with Michael Cohen, who raised an eyebrow but didn’t say anything else, then convinced me that SI was the right choice, and I shouldn’t even bother visiting Urbana-Champaign.

    He was one of the orchestrators of the 9-credit behemoth “Foundations” course, where I learned more about human (/human) interaction and the challenges of building a functional organization from disparate parts than I did about cataloging, economics, cognitive science, or computer programming. It was a real-time case study in organizational behavior.

    He oversaw my second-year project, to build a system for recording audio of live presentations and synching them with slides to post on the web in near real-time, which he put to good use to record the weekly ICOS lectures. He figured out what I was interested in, and put me to work, and I felt good about doing it.

    He invited me to Thanksgiving dinner! I was on my own during the holiday, and he, Hilary, Rachel and Amy welcomed me to their home for a lovely evening. I remember being nervous about being on time, and ended up arriving 10 or 15 minutes early. Today I know that 10 minutes late for a dinner invitation is always better than being 10 minutes early, but Michael just welcomed me in and made me comfortable while the rest of the family did all the last-minute things that families do when they’re getting ready to host Thanksgiving dinner.

    And the rest of the time, he was just…there. Just part of the fabric of grad school. He taught a class or two that I took, and he was at lectures and brown bag lunches and ICOS, and he was this constant comfortable reminder that I’d made a good choice, because I was at a place with people like him.

    From time to time after graduation, I’d swing by Michael’s office. He wasn’t always in, but when he was, he always made me feel at home, like he’d just been waiting for me to come by and chat, and wanted nothing more than to just sit and talk.

    Twice he invited me back as a guest in his Foundations class, and once I was able to make it. I think that class was the last time I saw him, though I still made a point of swinging hopefully by his office when I was in town. The topic was mass digitization, and Michael’s class presented their ideas for what could be done with a huge corpus of digitized books. It was just so comfortable to be in the classroom with him, as he heard my feedback and seemed to think it was worthwhile.

    For the past week, since I heard the news of his passing, I’ve been working on this series of remembrances, and every day, another random moment pops into my head. Lunch at Cottage Inn with Michael, Jane and Paula in an ICOS celebration (I was late because I lost track of time with my then-brand-new-girlfriend, now wife of 13 years); sitting next to him on the first day of classes in my first year as students and professors were introducing themselves; having coffee with him in his office using the little plastic single-cup filter holder he had; lunch at China Gate, where he ordered broccoli (“Just broccoli?!?” “Yep, just broccoli.”); cutting bread with the cutting board/bread knife combo he and Hilary gave us as a wedding gift (we use it almost every day)… And then I read the remembrances of others who knew Michael a lot better, and a lot longer, than I did, and I think about how enormous MUST be the amount of good he added to the world, to people’s lives, to the institutions he worked with, and I’m kind of overwhelmed by it. Here’s to Michael, with fondness, and sadness, and gratitude, and peace.

  47. It has proven shockingly difficult for me to begin to accustom myself to the idea of a Michigan without Michael. I first met him as a newly minted Ph.D. at a conference held in Ann Arbor. A brief encounter in the hallway turned into a three hour discussion over coffee, during which he said some variant of “folks like you need to get jobs somewhere, you should consider here.” The idea stuck and two years later I was lucky enough to have it become real.

    Once I arrived, Michael was one of the handful of people who helped me understand all the dimensions of academic life (he called it “playing the whole game”) and especially the peculiarly gracious but unyielding brand of interdisciplinary work that he practiced with such joy and aplomb. I especially recall one dissertation defense in which he proclaimed himself to be “every man’s cognate.” That’s as apt a description of what I most valued about our conversations as I think can be had in three words.

    Michael was among the vanishingly small number of friends and mentors who could always be trusted to gently but pointedly note when I was beginning to succumb to what he considered deadly sins: rigidity, arrogance, dismissiveness, parochiality. For that too, I will miss him.

    As I flip back through old notebooks that bear traces of conversations over the last decade, I find myself struck not by the broad and generative ideas which so many have mentioned, but by the small, aphoristic gems of advice. Here are three favorites that still resonate.

    On the process of tackling ambitious ideas: “Bite less, chew more.”
    On chasing grant support for large scale projects: “Don’t get so caught up in feeding the beast that you forget to ride it.”
    On the dangers of administration: “Many of the bad habits we attribute to age are really the result of schedule ossification.”

    Good bye, Michael. You will be missed.

  48. Many Norwegian friends and colleagues will miss Michael. My family and I are certainly among those. Since we first met (1968-69) at University of California, Irvine, via encounters in the United States, Norway, Denmark, Italy and other places, and to our recent co-authoring with James G. March a chapter to a book celebrating the 40th anniversary of our joint 1972-paper on “garbage can”-processes, Michael has in all respects been a great friend and colleague. Michael was the kind of person it was always interesting to discuss with. He was the kind of person it was impossible to imagine having an unfirendly argument with. From the Olsen-family – Helene, Vivi, Heidi and myself: our thoughts go to Hilary, Rachel and Amy, with the wish that they will get all the strengths they need during these difficult days.

    Johan P. olsen

  49. Amie Eigner and I were students of Michael’s while we were at SPP in the late 90’s. We are completely devastated. He was always such a presence in our lives, then and now.

    Whenever we face a complex problem we always get to the point where we ask, “What would Michael say?”. That isn’t likely to ever change.

    We were fortunate to keep up the sporadic contact that having a young family and living a few thousand miles from Ann Arbor allows. We will treasure those interactions (including a memorable tour and “deconstruction” of the then pre-opening Ford School building) along with the long hours spent thinking about complex problems he fostered with us as students.

    Visiting Ann Arbor will now always be bittersweet.

    Our deepest condolences to Hilary and Michael’s entire family.

    Paul Luongo MPP/JD ’99
    Amie Eigner MPP’99

  50. Like others in touch with Michael over the last few months who were in the dark about, in some sense, more important things than our intellectual concerns of the moment, I received the news of his death as a shock. But perhaps that is part of the lesson he was trying to impart this time–something about degrees of importance, quite aside from degrees of privacy. What might we, might I, have done differently had we/I known? Let him know how significant it was to receive his support, extended so “casually,” almost invisibly, at key moments? I met him f2f on only two occasions, both invitations to present at ICOS. In the seminars, at dinner with Hilary and David Cohen and Maggie Lampert, one on one, he was 100% present, engaged, reflecting, challenging, and always, always, smiling, with his whole face. Condolences to Hilary, other family members, and the extended MDC “family” who are reading and writing here.

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