CSU conservation professor beloved by students set to retire

Rachel Telljohn

Richard Knight, a beloved professor of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources, is set to retire this December.

Knight is infamously known on campus for his passionate lectures that leave him on the verge of tears – or experiencing bouts of heartburn, as he tells his students.


Knight describes teaching as an addiction and as something which he could not quit gradually. When Knight retires he says it will be for good. He was supposed to retire in May but was convinced by his department head to stay one more semester.

“I’m in my thirty-first year (of teaching at Colorado State), which I can’t believe,” Knight said. “I’m addicted to this job.”

Knight has taught a host of courses during his time at the University, which he describes as an evolution dealing with people-land relationships and said every course he teaches he is passionate about. Knight said higher education gives freedom to the professor to create new educational content which reflects ongoing change in society for young people.

“CSU has allowed me to keep changing the course content and offerings as society has changed. Society is so different, it changes every decade or so,” Knight said.

Within the University Knight is also a fellow with the School of Global and Environmental Sustainability and teaches a month-long field course at the Mountain Campus.

This semester Knight teaches two courses in the natural resources department: a capstone course, which he developed, and a biological diversity class. Each of Knight’s classes look at new, collaborative ways of approaching conservation.

Colorado State University professor Richard Knight, right, talks to Acacia Sublett, middle, and Sarah Coler, left, after class on Tuesday afternoon in the Engineering building. Knight, a professor of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources, will be retiring after teaching at CSU for 20 years. (Forrest Czarnecki | Collegian)

The capstone course puts the economic, human and environmental dimension front and center with students. Knight wants his students to realize that, historically, in conservation, the economic and human elements have been fought.

“We have to engage the human dimensions and the economic dimensions … and then we just pull together instead of trying to pull each other apart,” Knight said.

Knight is a wildlife biologist by trade and said the work he does attempts to build bridges between urban and rural America. He said the two groups have so much in common but focus too much on the differences and that both need to realize those commonalities.

A concept introduced in the capstone is the radical center movement, or a formal effort to heighten awareness of all the things held in common by all peoples.


Knight attended the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering over the weekend as part of the symposium Keeping Working Lands in Working Hands. The symposium held a similar message Knight delivers to his students.

Knight’s passion for the material he teaches in not lost on his students. Lindsay Palmer and Sandra Hargraves, both conservation biology students, are taking Knight’s biological diversity class as their chosen elective.

“I just like the enthusiasm that he obviously has for the subject he’s teaching,” Palmer said. “I would recommend it for anyone to take if they are remotely interested in (the course material) at all.”

Both students said he is one of their favorite professors so far.

Knight attributes his students for the love he has for his job and teared up – or experienced a bit of heartburn – as he articulated as much.

“The students (keep me coming back to my job),” Knight said. “The truth is teachers that love teaching get energy from the students. (The energy) is real.”

Knight also attributes CSU as a place he is proud to work for and place where he has witnessed positive changes.

“When you’ve been in a place three decades, that’s long enough to see change and CSU is changing and it’s changing in a positive direction. CSU has gotten stronger every year,” Knight said.

Knight read Wendell Berry to his class the second week of school, someone who Knight quotes frequently.

“‘We have not quit because we are not hopeless,'” Knight read from Berry. “I wanted the students to realize … that they are not hopeless. They’re actually hopeful even though they haven’t thought about it. The fact that I haven’t quit must mean I’m hopeful.”

Collegian reporter Rachel Telljohn can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @racheltelljohn.