Edward L. Rhodes

Most individuals would consider helping found one major educational institution a lifetime achievement. Bill Cooper did it twice and felt in both cases, it was just something he had to do, not something he achieved.
Bill Cooper – Friend and Mentor I had known Bill Cooper for almost 40 years, first as a dean and professor at CMU, later as a colleague and friend. Without question, he had the most significant impact on not only my approach to research, but also my way of dealing with people in general. He had a zest for life. Every day he viewed as an opportunity for a new challenge and the acquisition of new knowledge. The intensity of his love of doing even in his later years eclipsed that of most individuals half his age.

Bill Cooper was scrupulously fair in the manner he conducted his research and in his collaboration with others. Always loyal to those he considered friends; he never wavered in his support of friends, even when others faltered. For me, he saw potential where even I saw nothing but problems. It was his faith in my abilities more than my own faith which got me through the challenges of graduate school and beyond. There is a joke which several people use to make about being one of Cooper’s students. The premiums were very high, but they say you have to remember it is a lifetime insurance policy. Regardless of how far or how successful you thought you have gone, Bill Cooper always felt an obligation to see if you could go a bit further. If you had made chair of your department and had a named chair, then he might worry about awards in your future. Even when I made Vice Chancellor at Indiana University, Bill worried that I was losing my research soul and corresponded regularly with me about possible new areas of research interest.

Everyone recognized his considerable quantitative gifts and ability to work hard, hard, hard. Frankly while admiring his technical skills and work ethic, I do not think those made him great. Those traits alone would make him good, maybe very good. What made him great? Bill Cooper possessed an extraordinary and rare ability to bring together apparently unrelated issues and problems and synthesize them into something wholly new and wonderful. If you look at the mathematics of his great achievements such as goal programming or data envelopment analysis, the mathematics is not that esoteric. What was special and extraordinary was his ability to see lines of connectivity and paths of solutions where others saw nothing. Nothing. This precious gift very few individuals in any field had to the degree that Bill Cooper did.
This gift of Bill Cooper extended beyond his research. In a time when all “business schools”” tended to look the same and produce the same type of graduate, Bill Cooper and a small group of like-minded souls at the then Carnegie Institute of Technology, founded the Graduate School of Industrial Administration, GSIA, now the Tepper School of Business. They created not another “business school” but rather a place for rigorous quantitative analysis of management problems. They helped foster a wholly different approach to problem solving in economics and business management. He saw connection and approaches where others saw nothing.

Not content to rest on his administration creativity, about twenty years after helping found the Tepper School, Bill Cooper then turned his attention to doing the same thing for public sector education. SUPA, Carnegie Mellon’s School of Urban and Public Affairs, now the Heinz School, like the Tepper School represented a radical departure from the standard “public administration” education model. He and Toby Davis helped form in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s an approach to public sector problem solving which asked different questions and provided very different insights than others before them.

Most individuals would consider helping found one major educational institution a lifetime achievement. Bill Cooper did it twice and felt in both cases, it was just something he had to do, not something he achieved.
An extraordinary individual whose like may never be encountered again within our professions. He brought to his research, his vision of learning, and his conduct of living a joy of exploration and an enormous appetite for going beyond what others knew. I am grateful for having had him in my life and hope in some small way; I have conducted myself in a manner which would make him proud.

Edwardo L. Rhodes, USA
July 2012