This year, Colorado College’s John Riker, professor of philosophy, is celebrating 50 years of teaching at the college. A celebration was held at this year’s Homecoming, with Riker giving a talk on his recent scholarship, “Philosophy and Psychoanalysis: Re-vitalizing Contemporary Life,” alongside a celebratory event and reception with Professor of Philosophy Jonathan Lee interviewing Riker, and past students and colleagues attending.
Ten years past retirement age, Riker shows no signs of slowing down. His time at CC has been “the most exciting space of any college I’ve spent time at, so alive and engaging. It’s too wonderful to give up. You’re going to have to drag me away from this,” he says.
Riker arrived in 1968, and would become a prolific scholar — publishing books and articles, and giving talks across the country and around the world on ethics, psychoanalysis, and “what it means to be human,” he says.
Born in 1943 in New Jersey, Riker spent his formative years in a “small, boutique town outside of New York City.” Just as Riker was heading into high school, his father took a CEO position in Montreal. “I couldn’t go to school in Montreal as I didn’t have 10 years of French language skill. While my father’s work took him north, my schooling took me to the Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts,” says Riker.
Discovering his academic passions at Mount Hermon, Riker then went to Middlebury College. He graduated as class valedictorian in 1965, a member of Phi Beta Kappa with High Honors, with his B.A. in philosophy. From Vermont, Riker went south to Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, pursuing and receiving both his Master’s and Ph.D. within three years.
Helping to launch the Block Plan at CC, Riker first arrived at CC on the semester plan — teaching three courses a semester before the change of structure. When the Block Plan came into play in 1970, it changed everything.
“It was framed to us faculty as ‘how do we want to teach?’” explains Riker. “That very act of choosing rather than simply accepting what had come before, it put so much energy, vitality into this place, you could live off it!”
Riker’s time at CC has been one of service, scholarship, and engaged teaching; he was teacher of the year four times, advisor of the year three times, recipient of the Gresham Riley Award for Distinguished Service, three-time department chair, and member of the general education and Watson Fellowship nomination committees.
“During my initial 25 years at CC I published almost nothing, but since 1992 I’ve published four books, 15 or more articles, and I give two to three papers around the country and the world each year,” he says.
“I finally got ahold of a set of ideas I believed in. It took me time to grasp what I needed to say as a philosopher, rather than going article to article on what someone else had already thought. I wanted to find my own voice,” Riker explains.
True self-expression stretches beyond the classroom for Riker, into the dance studio.
“I’ve been dancing in some form or fashion my whole life, from cotillion when I was 8 or 9 until today, teaching and sharing ballroom dance with CC students,” Riker says.
He and Marcia Dobson, professor of classics, have been teaching ballroom dance to CC students
and community members for nearly two decades, with official adjunct classes being held for the past three years.
“We just decided to involve young people in ballroom dance,” Riker says about his spouse and himself. “Something we both loved, Marcia and I, and we wanted to share with others.”
Sharing with others, from philosophy to dance, is a hallmark of Riker’s life. Reflecting on his career, so far, he simply says, “It really doesn’t feel like 50 years of teaching, at all. I’m not going anywhere, anytime soon.”