Former Business School Dean John Cowee Dies

John Cowee, former dean at the University of California, Berkeley business school, died on May 15, 2010, at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, Colorado, at the age of 91 of natural causes.

Cowee served from 1961 to 1966 as the seventh dean of the business school, which was later named the Haas School of Business. Under Cowee's leadership, management education at UC Berkeley was expanded to include more international coursework and to be more closely integrated with the social sciences.

"He was a risk taker," said Cowee's son, John Cowee Jr. "He tended to be forward looking in everything he did."

During Cowee's deanship, the school created its first international business curriculum. At the time, the only international business course offered focused on foreign exchange. Cowee also helped found the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he developed links between Asia and the University of California. At UC Berkeley, business education continued during Cowee's tenure to move toward greater integration of the social sciences into the business curriculum as recommended in the1959 Ford Foundation and Carnegie Corporation reports.

Raymond Miles, who was the business school dean from 1982 to 1990, was recruited by Cowee as a professor. Miles says he respected him immensely. "John's care and concern was a factor in my decision to come to Berkeley," Miles said.

"John handled both the duties of the office and the social hosting of the faculty with what seemed to a young scholar to be amazingly easy. John even made the move into Barrows Hall (from sharing space in Wheeler and South Halls) appear a major achievement, which in fact, at that time, was not without some truth," Miles added. "John left while I was away on a visiting appointment and I regretted then and still do that I did not have the opportunity to thank him for his service to the school and his kindnesses to me."

A World War II veteran, Cowee received a Bronze Star for his service in the US Army in the South Pacific. After the war, he earned his PhD in business and LLB (law degree) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Cowee came to UC Berkeley as a professor in 1953 and taught business and insurance law at the law school before becoming dean at the business school. Cowee left UC Berkeley in 1966 under what his son, John Cowee Jr. described as "political circumstances." At the time, Cowee favored the students' Free Speech Movement that was opposed by Gov. Ronald Reagan, who ordered state funding cuts and National Guard troops to campus.

"I knew I could not work for a board of regents that treated Clark Kerr the way it did," Cowee said in an interview earlier this year. (Kerr was UC Berkeley's first chancellor and later a UC president. The UC Regents fired Kerr for his sympathetic attitude toward student demonstrations while Reagan was governor.)

From 1968 to 1974, Cowee returned to his home state of Wisconsin and became vice president for finance and provost at Marquette University in Milwaukee. In 1975, the University of Colorado regents invited Cowee to serve as the first chancellor of that university's Health Sciences Center. Cowee accepted the job and helped develop the University of Colorado Hospital. He retired in 1984.

For the past 25 years, Cowee has lived in Colorado, serving as a board director for more than 50 organizations, including the Children's Diabetes Foundation at Denver, the Wisconsin Heart Association, and the American Board for Medical Advancement in China.

Cowee is survived by his wife, Nancy; sons John Cowee Jr. of Albany, California, and Jeff Cowee of Phoenix, Arizona; daughter Susan McCarthy of Chicago, Illinois; and three grandchildren.