ALAMOSA – A love of language and a natural ability to pick up new dialects started Dr. Richard E. Baker on his path to becoming a professor at Adams State University. “Knowledge is power and I wanted to pass along that power to other people through teaching.” Baker retired this spring as an emeritus professor of English.
A junior computer science major, Brian Mott took Major Themes in Literature with Baker. “While I had appreciated literature before taking his class, it was refreshing to receive new instruction on a collection of pieces I had heard about, but not yet read. It was interesting to learn more about the theming within a genre, and I feel that information will be helpful in my desired field of video game design.”
After taking a Spanish class in high school, Baker found he “had a knack” for learning foreign languages and continued along this path through college. “Learning another language teaches you so much about your own language.”
While an undergraduate student, Baker believed he would pursue a career as an interpreter for international airlines. However, when he received, as a college graduation present, the opportunity to drive to Peru with friends in a VW, his path diverted. “My Spanish got really good living and surfing in the South and Central Americas.”
After six months surfing, Baker applied to graduate school at CU Boulder, and earned his master’s and doctorate degrees. Not one to focus solely on academics or work without balancing with outdoor recreational activities, Baker also learned to ski in Colorado. “It is hard to maintain the balance, but if you don’t, it just becomes work and is not enjoyable anymore. I don’t see the point.”
Seeking adventure while still a student, Baker accepted a scholarship to attend school in Paris where he perfected his French. “You don’t really learn the language until you go live in the country where it is spoken.” He encourages his students to travel the world and spend time in other cultures. “It was daunting to go to school in another country. They are not going to speak English to you.”
Spanish and English professor
When he first arrived on the Adams State campus, Baker was a visiting professor of Spanish. In 1995, Baker accepted a position as professor of English at Adams State, and taught general education classes in English and upper-division courses including Major Themes in Literature, World Literature II, The Novel, and Twentieth-Century American Novel.
Dr. Dave MacWilliams, former chair of the English, Theatre, and Communication Department, admired Baker’s 24 years of dedication. “Students admired him for his diligence in responding to their writing and his pushing them hard in their development of critical thinking,” MacWilliams said. “He helped students in ways that are often overlooked. For example, he made sure that students could find copies of his course books on reserve in the library before that became standard ASU policy. And students could always count on him for help during office hours. In fact, he always shared his home phone number with them. Students respected him for being tough, but fair. Like all good professors, he had a following of students who tried to take as many courses from him as they could.”
Baker encouraged his students to take their college education seriously. “You only get out what you put into it. However, try to have fun and enjoy your free-time. Do the full experience: involve yourself in clubs and take advantage of all the school has to offer; otherwise, it is just books and classes and you can’t apply that to the real world.”
His all-time favorite book, The Stranger, by Albert Camus was recommended by Professor Zimmerman at San Diego State. “One book, one professor can change your life. The book gave me insight into life I hadn’t seen before. That is what literature does. It opens up new worlds for you. Plus most of the action takes place on a beach.”
He has several articles published in professional journals including “Outsiders Wanting Back In–Rick Blaine’s Conversion to Sartre’s Orestes: Casablanca and Existentialism” published in Cinematic Codes Review 2016; “Chuck Palahniuck’s Fight Club Apropos of Sartre’s Bath Faith and Camus’s Calculated Culpability” published in A Global Journal of Human-Social Sciences 2014; and “Some Fragile Member of the Human Absurdity with Erectile Dysfunction: Faulkner’s Existentialist View in Sanctuary” published in Icfai University Journal of American Literature 2009. Dr. Baker has authored two books: The Adams State Story: Part IV 2011, currently in the Adams State time capsule; and The Dynamics of the Absurd in the Existentialist Novel, New York, by Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 1993. He has also written several book reviews and conference papers.
“I taught thousands of students how to read, write, and think critically that was my job,” Baker added. “And I tied in my scholarship work with the material I was teaching in classes.”
Dr. John Taylor, theatre program director and professor of theatre, has known and worked with Baker for nearly 20 years. “From his insight and leadership within English, Theatre, and Communication to his personalized mentoring of students, I have always admired what he brought to our department and campus,” Taylor said.
Recognized by students and colleagues
Baker has received several awards including the KASF 2011 Radio Award: ASC’s Favorite Professor, in 2001; Metro Connections Teaching Award, Metropolitan State College, Denver; and Dissertation Fellowship from the Department of Comparative Literature, CU-Boulder. “My main focus was to help students get through life and through school, to value education and still know how to laugh and have a good time.”
Baker received his Ph.D. in 1991 and his Master in Arts in 1980 from the University of Colorado and earned his Bachelor of Arts from San Diego State University in 1972. He is fluent in Spanish, French, and English and can read and write Latin, and he still surfs. In fact he will split his retirement time between Florida – surfing, fishing, and scuba diving, and when it gets too hot, returning to Colorado to play golf. “This place is magic.”
A deep admiration for his father, who was a World War II prisoner of war in the Philippines, has inspired Baker to write a book. “My dad didn’t talk about his experiences. I had to learn about it from my uncle. The first chapter is all planned out in my head. I just need to sit down and write it and when I don’t have to prep for classes or do committee work, I will have the time.”
Before coming to Adams State, Dr. Baker taught at Metropolitan State College, the University of Colorado, Boulder, and Front Range Community College. “It is worthwhile to invest in the youth to carry democracy into the future.” He and his wife, Terri, have two children Danny and Hannah.
Caption: Dr. Rick Baker inspires his students during his Major Themes in Literature class this spring./Courtesy photo by Linda Relyea