Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey

Colleagues and Former Students Remember Professor Leo van Lier

Click image to enlarge

Leo van Lier Event Group

Friends and colleagues including Kathi Bailey, Lynn Goldstein, Peter Shaw, Jean Turner and Renee Jourdenais (l to r) celebrated the life of Professor Leo van Lier at a memorial event and fundraiser on February 4.

February 9, 2017

“Leo was a friend, compatriot and mentor,” said Marit ter Mate-Martinsen MATESOL ’01 of her former professor Leo van Lier, whose life was remembered and honored at a memorial event and fundraiser held February 4 on the Middlebury Institute campus.

“He impacted my beliefs as a teacher immensely,” added ter Mate-Martinsen, “I’m so glad I was able to commemorate Leo as a beautiful, humorous and brilliant human being with others who loved him. He touched so many lives, and I’m lucky to be counted amongst them!”

Planned by Professor Kathi Bailey, the event brought together friends, alumni, colleagues and current students to celebrate Professor van Lier’s impact on the field of applied and educational linguistics and language education. A prolific scholar and writer, van Lier is perhaps best known for bringing the concept of ecology into applied linguistics. Van Lier, who taught at the Institute for more than 20 years beginning in the late 1980s, passed away in December 2012.

The afternoon program featured live music by Middlebury Institute alumni Tim Marquette MATESOL ‘16 and Desma Johnson MATESOL ’01, and faculty member Laura Burian MATI ‘95, video and live testimonials, and a slide show highlighting Professor van Lier’s professional and personal accomplishments. Stories told by several former students and colleagues painted a colorful picture of Leo van Lier the “rock star,” who was passionate about teaching and dedicated to his research.

Colleagues at the event remembered him for his unique combination of brilliance and empathy. Professor Kathi Bailey added that “I liked to think of Leo as our resident ‘modelologist,’ since he so often thought by drawing figures that represented concepts. Often in a faculty meeting when we were trying to hash out a complex issue, Leo would sit quietly and listen to the discussion while he sketched. Then he would show us what he had drawn and how the relationship among the issues we were debating could be better understood. He was a great scholar and a wonderful friend, and I miss him.”

The event also raised nearly $7,000 for the Leo van Lier Lecture Series, which brings pre-eminent scholars in the field of applied and educational linguistics to campus to share their work with faculty and graduate students. For information about the lecture series or to make a gift to the Lecture Series fund in Professor van Lier’s memory, click here. "I’m delighted that so many people came to MIIS to remember and honor this remarkable man," said Bailey.


I am so sorry to hear just today of his death. I remember when he first arrived. A thrilling experience to see his mind at work and his attentiveness to us--the not so blank canvases--made a lifelong difference in our thinking, as I'm sure others have said. My condolences to the whole van Lier family and colleagues.

I think about Leo regularly - we've created a couple different language classes in the vein of Language Awareness (eg DIY Language) and, every time a student asks me how many pages an assignment is, I quote Leo. "How long is a piece of string?" There's usually a pause before I tell them I'm not even sure what it means, but that my favorite professor said it, so I do, too. In any event, they quit asking how much they need to write.

Add new comment