Ruth Luckasson, a Distinguished Professor of Special Education, has retired after serving at The University of New Mexico for more than four decades.

Luckasson’s path to becoming the College of Education and Human Sciences (COEHS)’s first Distinguished Professor began when she joined the faculty in 1981 after earning her bachelor’s, master’s, and J.D. from UNM. 

Ruth Luckasson retirement
Distinguished Professor of Special Education Ruth Luckasson.

In her 43 years of UNM service, Luckasson was a singular advocate for the rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), serving as an expert witness before Congress and the National Academy of Sciences and on the World Health Organization’s Working Group on the Classification of Intellectual Disabilities and the U.S. President’s Committee on People with Intellectual Disability. 

“Ruth is an institution at our College, and her work to empower people with IDD has improved the lives of countless individuals, families, and communities throughout the state, the nation, and the world,” said COEHS Dean Kristopher Goodrich. “Ruth’s teaching and mentorship have left an indelible mark on our students, faculty, and College, and she will be greatly missed. We wish her the best as she begins her next chapter and remain grateful for her service to our College.” 

Attendees at Luckasson’s May 3 retirement celebration reflected on her legacy, “her kindness without end,” the power of her mentorship, and her ability to “hold the greatest suffering of others” close, especially when advocating for people with IDD in death penalty cases. 

Luckasson’s former students include generations of teachers, leaders, and researchers who thanked her for her disposition and this passion recalling her warmth, care, and advice to them to “follow the prize.” 

“My treasured colleagues, we have been through everything, Thank you to COEHS. My opportunities for research, scholarship and advocacy during my tenure, would not have been possible without UNM watching my back,” Luckasson said. 

Luckasson closed by sharing these lines from T.S. Eliot: “We shall not cease from exploration/ And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time.” 

“Luckasson is a moving piece of art who held the College steady over so many years,” said Special Education Department Chair Yen Pham.

Luckasson graduated from UNM’s COEHS undergraduate program in 1974 and retired this spring as the College’s first Distinguished Professor—arriving back where she started but having been joined by former students and colleagues to continue her advocacy, work, and exploration forward. 

The Professor Ruth A. Luckasson Endowed Scholarship in Special Education was created in 2020 to honor Luckasson’s legacy of improving the lives of people with disabilities. Every gift supports special education students. Individuals who wish to contribute to the fund can do here.