The Faculty History Project documents faculty members who have been associated with the University of Michigan since 1837. Key in this effort is to celebrate the intellectual life of the University. This Faculty History Website is intended as a component of the effort to document the extraordinary academic achievements of Michigan’s faculty in building and sustaining one of the world’s great universities. It provides access to a comprehensive database of information concerning the thousands of faculty members who have served the University of Michigan.
Find out more.

The Bentley Historical Library serves as the official archives for the University.


Wilbur J. Cohen
Regent's Proceedings 734

Wilbur J. Cohen will retire from active faculty status as of June 30, 1983, after 28 years at The University of Michigan. As dean of the School of Education, professor of education, and professor of public welfare administration in the School of Social Work, he has applied his considerable intellectual and administrative talents to a great variety of the most important issues that this University has been engaged in during the last quarter century.

Throughout his career at the University, Professor Cohen has had a foot firmly planted in the "real world." Never far from the vital concerns of national welfare reform and educational policy, he was a frequent traveler to the nation's capital. He came to the University in 1955 following a distinguished career in Washington where he was instrumental in creating the Social Security System. His early experiences and work with problems of economic security were directly linked to his subsequent teaching interests and formed much of his later writing and research.

During the administrations of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, Professor Cohen returned to Washington and served successively as assistant secretary, undersecretary, and, finally, secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Under Professor Cohen's leadership, much of the landmark legislation in the fields of mental health, education, vocational education, medical assistance, and social security reform was enacted.

Upon his return to the University in 1969, he assumed the deanship of the School of Education. His leadership of the School reflected his continuing concerns with such questions as educational opportunity and access, affirmative action and equity, and early childhood education. Major projects such as the Urban Program in Education, the Program for Educational Opportunity, and the ERIC Clearinghouse in Guidance and Counseling were housed in the school.

Professor Cohen served as member of the Executive Committee of the Institute for Social Research and as a member of the Library Council. He also was cochairman of The University of Michigan/Wayne State University Institute of Gerontology.

His interest in the field of gerontology closely paralleled his interest in the fields of social security and retirement. Through his efforts, the School of Education became the first university department to offer formal academic training in educational gerontology-an area of research and practice for which this University has become internationally recognized. Known as a provocative and dynamic teacher, Professor Cohen always attracted a coterie of students eager to study with a person who has been so closely associated with some of the great policy questions of the last half-century. Many of his former students have gone on to occupy significant positions in state and national government.

Professor Cohen's interest in education and educational reform have been manifest throughout his career. His ideas took shape early and were deeply influenced by his collegiate experiences at the University of Wisconsin. He was a graduate (1934) of that institution's experimental college, which was directed by Alexander Meiklejohn, the noted political theorist, reformer, and educational philosopher. Professor Cohen never lost sight of the essential message advanced by Meiklejohn: education is designed primarily to stimulate thinking about fundamental questions irrespective of time or the place in which we live.

A prolific writer, Professor Cohen is the author of Retirement Policies Under Social Security, co-author of Income and Welfare, Social Security Program: Problems and Policies, Toward Freedom from What, and Income and Welfare. In addition, he has contributed extensively to professional journals and popular periodicals.

Currently Professor Cohen is serving as the Sid W. Richardson Professor of Public Affairs at the Lyndon Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. He received the Jane Addams Award and the Bronfman Prize for Public Health Achievement. As he approaches retirement he maintains his energetic schedule of public service to state, nation, and the University community.

The Regents now salute this distinguished educator by naming him Professor Emeritus of Education, School of Education, and Professor Emeritus of Public Welfare Administration, School of Public Health.