Barbara Loken

After Four Decades, Barbara Loken, First Female Full Professor, Retires

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

In 1980, Barbara Loken stepped foot on a University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus that looked much different than what we see today. The University was still largely a commuter campus. Student motivations and experiences reflected the times. And it was still six years before Curtis L. Carlson’s gift that renamed the College of Business Administration. 

Forty-two years later, Loken is the longest-serving female faculty member and the first female professor to receive promotion to full professor in the history of the school. She’s also a recognized expert in the fields of brand management, consumer psychology, and health promotion, and holds the title of David C. McFarland Professor of Marketing. Officially retiring today, May 31, she understands the importance of what she accomplished. 

“I represented a change in the school in terms of norms,” she says. “It meant that my hard work paid off I worked hard to get to this level and that I broke a barrier that hadn’t been broken before. I think that’s good for all women. It’s beneficial for our female students to have a role model that’s a full professor.”

Like the University, the business school’s 1980 makeup was different. Loken remembers there was one other female tenure-track faculty member but also a commitment from leadership to change that balance. Within a few years, there was a group of six or seven women faculty members. Together, they would schedule a regular dinner about once a month at each other’s houses. That continued for more than a decade.

“We didn’t get to know other women until we started meeting as a group,” Loken explains. “Building that bond established friendships and made the building feel a little smaller.”

During her time at the school, Loken has experienced many changes. For one, the focus and strong commitment to international education. Another, the faculty’s research prowess, recently ranked 10th in the world by UT Dallas. “That [focus on research] is a huge difference,” she says. “It’s set a standard for the school that people strive to meet.” Doing her part, Loken published seminal research in major marketing, psychology, and health journals, and served in editorial roles for the Journal of Consumer Research and the Journal of Consumer Psychology

Loken has also seen changes in how students approach their education. She taught courses in buyer behavior, marketing research, and brand management. Gone are the lecture-heavy courses with cases to supplement the textbook. There is much more give and take and classroom discussions and experiential activities because students want to participate.

“Today’s students are much more driven by causes,” she says.

In retirement, Loken is looking to help her own causes that are close to her heart. Her neighbor recently got her involved in the Tanzania Life Project, a nonprofit organization that builds water wells and reservoirs for communities in East African country.

Though she’ll soon be leaving an impact on people thousands of miles away, her impact at the Carlson School will continue to live on. That’s true figuratively but also literally—she’s still working on research projects with a PhD student after all.