The Lukermann Legacy

Fred Lukermann influence on record

Fred Lukermann, professor emeritus of geography, began his life at the University in 1940 as a freshman. After serving on the faculty of the Department of Geography, he led the College of Liberal Arts as dean from 1978 until his retirement as dean in 1989. As dean, he was known for his commitment to cultural pluralism and interdisciplinary study; he led efforts to gain recognition and support for ethnic studies and women's studies. In 1968 he created the University's Center for Urban and Regional Affairs. Fred and his wife, Barbara, continue to reside in the Twin Cities.

On these pages, several former students remember Lukermann's inspirational teaching, his maverick intellect, his leadership in his discipline and in the College of Liberal Arts, his unerring support for students and for principles of equity and diversity, and his grace, humor, and generosity--not to mention his mustache.

By John Adams

You don't meet Fred Lukermann--you encounter him. My encounter occurred in March 1961 when I was a first-year grad student in economics. I registered for Fred 's economic geography course, which my friend Fred Zimmerman had recommended. "This guy is really something," Fred exclaimed, and he was right. Standing about six-three, well over 200 pounds, full beard, strikingly handsome, knee-high riding boots--Fred looked like he'd just returned from the field, maybe East Africa, the Hindu Kush, or (as it turned out) Anatolia.

My economics curriculum emphasized models that typically assumed that Y was some function of X, etc. Fiddle with X, and you change Y. But Fred knew the world was complicated, with everything depending on everything else. He'd lecture and sketch on the blackboard about the iron and steel industry, or the cement industry, or the flour milling industry, or the Upper Midwest railroad industry, starting with A, moving on to B, then C, and so on. And when the bell rang (we had bells in those days), you realized that he had been describing the elements and interactions of complex systems of causes, effects, and feedbacks, with a level of complexity and ingenuity that enthralled those of us who like to think that way.

In the late 1950s Fred was a full-time instructor in the geography department and was becoming a leading intellectual light contributing to the incipient "quantitative revolution" that was overtaking American social science in general and geography in particular. His theoretical writings inquired: What kind of knowledge is geographical knowledge? What did Herodotus have to say? How about Emanuel Kant? He published a string of well-received papers (e.g., "The Concept of Location in Classical Geography," "The Role of Theory in Geographical Inquiry," "On Explanation, Model, and Description") that placed him on the frontier of geographical research of those days--just as I happened along.

In the classroom, the seminar, and the field, Fred was endlessly stimulating. We were a smart and cocky bunch, but his knowledge impressed us as encyclopedic. He seemed to have read everything, not only in physical and human geography, but also philosophy, history, geology, economics, anthropology, the history of technology, and Martin Luther's place in Reformation history. For those of us who arrived in grad school with old-fashioned undergraduate liberal arts educations, he provided steady encouragement and useful advice.

We wanted his approval, and he was always generous in providing it--even to those who perhaps deserved something less than they received. Fred knew how to adjust the bar depending on how high we could jump. He took us into the field, and after long days exploring and discussing the historical geography of the Mississippi Valley in places like Nauvoo and Galena, it was Fred who introduced us to the pleasures of drinking room-temperature Jack Daniel's from plastic cups in cheap motel rooms.

It was Fred who invited me to change my Ph.D. major to geography as I became disenchanted with my earlier path. I was his first Ph.D., followed by 20 more--three of us later elected to the presidency of the Association of American Geographers. When I received my degree in 1966, a phone call got me an excellent position at Penn State, from which the Minnesota department lured me back in 1970. Fred my teacher became Fred my colleague.

When our department was ranked "number one" by the National Research Council survey in the early 1980s, most of us felt that much of the basis for that accolade rested on the intellectual vitality, program breadth and depth, and scholarly performance of faculty members and students that Fred 's leadership had nurtured over the previous two decades.

Fred came to the University of Minnesota as a student in 1940, retired from the Department of Geography in 1991, then taught part-time for three more years. At a time when many have lost sight of the basic mission of the university, Fred understood better than most what it was all about. The generosity that he and Barbara have showered on our department will make it possible for others to experience the personal and professional benefits that came to me. He provided me with a lifetime of excellent example, and I am extremely grateful.

Ronald F. Abler

Fred Lukermann seems to possess a pedagogical philosopher's stone. He has the ability to transmute base metals into something noble, and he has done so not only in my own case, but in others as well. Sometimes when I'm in need of a dose of humility, I recall how unpromising I was as academic material when Fred first began to work his pedagogical magic on me. That is indeed a sobering exercise, and a testament to his abilities and faith. Fred's appreciation of diversity extends to support for individuals who do not fit the customary mold, to the great benefit of a fair share of his students and advisees, and to the discipline.

Teachers are widely believed to be people who can provide answers. Fred performs the pedagogical equivalent of showing people how to fish instead of giving them a fish. He makes his students formulate their own answers by asking questions. [ Fred's students learned] to see geography and their individual research and teaching as part of a much bigger intellectual enterprise. They were encouraged to establish their own intellectual independence, confident of their place in scholarly as well as in worldly contexts .

Abler (B.A. '63, M.A. '66, Ph.D. '68, geography) is secretary general and treasurer (since 2000) of the International Geographical Union (IGU), which he previously served as a Vice President (1996-2000) and as a member of the IGU Commission on Communications and Telecommunications (1984-96). He was executive director of the Association of American Geographers (1989-2002) and director of the Geography and Regional Science Program at the National Science Foundation (1984-88).

William Craig

Fred Lukermann set me on the path to everything that matters to me. In the spring of 1963 I was at loose ends. I had started the University in 1960, had taken a full set of courses for nearly three years, but had no passion and no idea what I might do with my life. I asked a friend to recommend a course. Geography 41: Economic Geography lit a fire in me that burns today. Fred Lukermann helped me learn what is happening in various places around the world and, more importantly, to understand the connections between natural resources and society. Not every place that has resources is rich and not every place that lacks them is poor. Much depends on human skills and effort. I switched majors and went on to get advanced degrees in geography from the best department in the country.

Craig (B.A.'67, math; M.A.'72 and Ph.D.'80, geography) is associate director of the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs and past chair of the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science, the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association, the Minnesota Governor's Council on Geographic Information, and the MetroGIS Coordinating Committee.

Everett G. Smith

From my days in the department from 1956 to 1961, I remember Fred Lukermann for his profound intellect, always evident but n ever flaunted; the great weekend parties the Lukermanns hosted for graduate students with gatherings that invariably wound up in heated but memorable conversations about the meaning and utility of geography as a discipline and science; his innate ability to get to the heart of issues with pertinent and rational questions; his knack for explaining subjects; his infectious good humor; and his willingness to listen with calm to students and colleagues, regardless of how mundane and absurd their comments.

Smith (Ph.D. '62 geography) is professor emeritus of geography, University of Oregon, Eugene.

Mary Cunningham

I am often asked, "Why did you ever move to Minnesota?" Fred Lukermann is the reason I'm in Minnesota. While teaching in Farmingdale, New York in 1965, I came across information for a National Defense Education Act Institute in Geography at the University of Minnesota. What a delightful and intense learning experience for a "city kid"! I went home enamored of Minnesota, the University of Minnesota, and Fred Lukermann, mustache and all. Professor Lukermann was an iconoclast. He loved confusing his students in order to get them to think--inside, outside, upside, downside, under or around the box. Coming from seminar sessions I would have a hodgepodge of thoughts and notes and many more questions than answers. But oh how I enjoyed the mental confusion!

Cunningham (M.A. '67, geography) has been a teacher most of her adult life. Most recently she was Winona State University liaison in South Washington County Schools and K-12 social studies curriculum coordinator for South Washington County Schools.

If you wish to honor Fred Lukermann, there's no better way than to give to the Fred Lukermann Geography Fellowship Fund. Your contribution will help us continue Fred's legacy of dedication to students . To make a tax-deductible donation, you may write a check payable to the University of Minnesota Foundation, fund #6737, and send it to : Or call our credit card line at 612-626-8560 or 800-775-2187 and leave your full name and phone number, the type of credit card , card number, expiration date, amount of your gift, and fund #6737.

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This page contains a single entry by cla published on July 23, 2008 11:51 AM.

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