Jun 21, 2012
William W. Cooper, founding faculty member of Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU) Graduate School of Industrial Administration (GSIA), now named the Tepper School of Business, and the founding dean of the School of Urban and Public Affairs, now known as CMU’s Heinz College, passed away on June 20 at the age of 97.
“In his 30 years as a faculty member at Carnegie Mellon and throughout his career, Bill’s contributions have been many, very significant and lasting,” said Jared L. Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University. “He was a founding faculty member of the Tepper School and the Heinz College, both of which became leading institutions in their fields and essential contributors to Carnegie Mellon's excellence."
Joining the CMU faculty in 1945 with a background in industrial engineering, Cooper became a catalyst for combining academic disciplines into research and teaching that generated a new, more scientific, way to examine problems and ultimately to improve management decisions. In the 1950s Cooper teamed up with Abe Charnes, a mathematics professor at CMU, and together they developed new mathematical models for problem solving that became the foundation of a new field called management science. In 1982, the pair would be honored with the John Von Neumann Theory Prize, an award given to individuals who have made fundamental and sustained contributions to theory in operations research and management science.
His work with other visionaries, including Lee Bach and Herbert Simon, created a radical shift in business education that emphasized scientific and mathematical rigor and collaboration over trade-school, hand-me-down instruction with professors teaching in departmental silos. Their work created a rare type of institution and generated an approach toward research and curricula that remains the focus of top education programs around the world today. In 2010, Cooper was inducted into the Tepper School’s Wall of Fame, which is on display in Posner Hall.
“Cooper was instrumental in the revolution of business education that took place at GSIA in the 1950’s and 60’s,” said Robert Dammon, dean of the Tepper School of Business, “The influences that he and his colleagues inspired for our school remain evident in the collaboration of our faculty, focus on academic rigor and scientific methods applied to research and problem solving.”
His vision when he established what is now the Heinz College was to educate “men and women of intelligent action” and he developed a curriculum framework and experiential learning activities that are at the core of what the college continues to do today. Cooper also saw the college as a place to try untested ideas in the marketplace. Knowing that more African-Americans were moving into urban centers, he and Otto Davis, an associate dean, realized that a pressing need for African-American managers lay ahead. Minority representation soon became one of the school’s striking achievements.
“I had the pleasure of working as Bill’s research assistant during my first years as a doctoral student at the University of Texas,” said Ramayya Krishnan, dean of the Heinz College. “He was a wonderful person and a brilliant scholar who truly cared about his work and the people around him. I, along with other faculty at Carnegie Mellon, have directly benefited from his mentorship.”
A prolific researcher, Cooper’s career spanned 30 years at CMU and nearly seven decades in academia, which included positions at the University of Chicago, the Harvard Business School, and the University of Texas, where he was professor emeritus.
In addition to his accomplishments in higher education, Bill was the founding president of The Institute for Management Science, which later became part of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences, the leading operational research society in the world today.
In 2006, Cooper was inducted in the International Federation of Operation Research Society’s Hall of Fame, where his contributions are described as follows: “Throughout his career, Bill Cooper has espoused the need for problem-driven research. He recognized the need for management researchers to be closely connected with the problems faced by managers in contemporary organizations. To Bill, this did not imply simply applying existing models to solve problems that fit those models. Rather, the objective is to identify new and challenging problems that require original solutions, motivating new basic research and the development of new models to address these problems observed in the field. Such research not only results in improvements in existing management practice but it also substantially enriches intellectual inquiry with the introduction of new problems, models and solution methods to the research literature.”
In his own words, Cooper once described his career in saying: “We’ve tried everything to improve the human condition: religion, political systems, but the thing I think we need to rely on, where we’ve made the most progress anyway, is intelligence. And that’s what universities do. They teach, and they develop new intelligence. This is the way I’ve spent my life, and it’s the way I’d like to see the world continue.”
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