John W. Cowee
Professor of Business Administration
1919 – 2010
John Cowee, who served as the seventh dean of the School of Business Administration at the University of California, Berkeley, passed away at his home in Denver, Colorado, on May 15, 2010. Cowee, who was 91, died of natural causes.
Cowee was born in Wisconsin on August 1, 1918. He received all his degrees, including an M.B.A., law degree and doctorate, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He came to UC Berkeley as a visiting associate professor in 1953 and joined the regular faculty the following year. Cowee taught classes in both the business and law schools. Business school dean Ewald T. Grether appointed him to a series of administrative positions at the business school and he became the seventh dean of the School of Business Administration in 1961.
Under his leadership, the school created its first international business curriculum and the University developed strong ties with the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which Cowee helped establish. Cowee actively promoted the integration of the social sciences into the business school curriculum, a key recommendation of the influential Ford Foundation and Carnegie Corporation reports on business education, which were published shortly before he became dean. During his deanship, the business school relocated from various locations on the campus to Barrows Hall, where it remained until moving to its current location in 1995.
Cowee is fondly recalled as a warm and gracious individual who thought it important for the faculty to get to know each other personally as a way of building a strong academic and professional community. He would regularly invite the entire faculty to his home to celebrate various occasions. Professor Emeritus Pete Bucklin recalls that these events “served to make the school a highly friendly environment and one which provided great support to young faculty members.” He adds, “John was not only a gracious host, but his personal hospitality permeated his entire approach to running the school.”
Former dean Ray Miles notes that “John’s care and concern was a factor in my decision to come to Berkeley. He handled both the duties of the office and the social hosting of the faculty with what seemed to a young scholar to be amazing ease.”
Cowee was also active in public and community service, serving on a committee to evaluate the pension and retirement system for municipal employees in San Francisco and as an elected member of the board of trustees of the California Physicians Service Medical Plan.
The decision of the Board of Regents to dismiss the University’s president Clark Kerr on the grounds that he was too sympathetic toward the student demonstrators outraged Cowee and led to his resignation from both the business school and UC Berkeley in 1966. According to Cowee, “I knew I could not work for a board of regents that treated Clark Kerr the way it did.”
Between 1968 and 1974, Cowee served as vice president and provost at Marquette University in Milwaukee; and in 1975 he became the first chancellor of the University of Colorado’s Health Sciences Center, a position that he held until his retirement in 1984.
Cowee remained in Colorado, where he served as a board member for numerous non-profit organizations in the field of public health.
John Cowee is survived by his wife, Nancy; sons John Cowee Jr. and Jeff Cowee; daughter Susan McCarthy; and three grandchildren.