First CSU philosophy major returns to campus

Blake O'Brien

There are 144 philosophy students enrolled at Colorado State University this year, according to University Institutional Research, Planning and Effectiveness. In 1961, there was only one.

That student was Richard “Dick” Miller, the University’s first ever philosophy major. He started as a CSU student 58 years ago, but his Fort Collins roots go even deeper than that.

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Emma Iannacone of Collegian Television interviews Richard “Dick” Miller, the first CSU philosophy major, and his wife Margaret Miller. (Tony Villalobos May | The Rocky Mountain Collegian.)

Miller and his wife visited the University Sept. 19 to speak to students. They were also interviewed by Frank Boring, the lead documentary video producer at CSU for a documentary on the 150-year history of Colorado State, which is approaching in 2020.

Miller was born in Burlington, VT Oct. 17, 1942. He was the son of a soldier for the U.S .Army. When Miller’s dad was sent overseas to fight in World War II, he and his mother moved to Fort Collins.

It wasn’t foreign territory for the two. Miller’s father was from Fort Collins, and his mother grew up in nearby Louisville.

Miller spent his early years with his mom in a house south of town. Before long, his father returned from the war and started working for CSU as an administrator.

Philosophy sort of spread by word of mouth. And when you’ve got really good teachers, there’s something seductive about that.” Richard “Dick” Miller, first CSU philosophy major.

As a child, Miller was often on campus to see his father and help with University chores.

One day, when he was in elementary school, Miller went to Old Main — the University’s oldest building, which burned down in 1970 — to visit his father’s office. A man walked up to Miller and jokingly asked what his father did all day. Miller recalled saying, “He sits behind the desk with his feet up and blows smoke rings.”

“The gentleman I was talking to was Bill Morgan, he was the president of the University,” Miller said.

Miller said he made up for his careless remarks. Miller helped set up chairs on the day before the commencement ceremony from when he was a kid until graduation day in 1964, the day that he himself graduated.

“And about three times out of five, I would then go back the morning of commencement when the P.E. department would bring bins of towels because it had rained the night before,” Miller said.

That’s not to say it wasn’t worth it.

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On one cloudy commencement day, a limousine pulled onto the sidewalk of the Oval while Miller was helping out. A suited man, in a flat hat, hopped out to speak with his father. Miller’s dad asked him if he could ride in the limousine and show them where the CSU president’s house was for a reception.

“Sure,” he said. “The guy opened the door and I got in the backseat with this really homely old lady with a funny voice … She said, ‘My grandson is getting his degree this summer.’”

The limousine eventually arrived at the CSU President’s house.

“I got out of the car and opened the door for (the old lady) and escorted her up to the house in Greenhaven,” Miller said. “There was the president (of CSU) standing there and he said, ‘Oh, good morning, Mrs. Roosevelt.’”

Mrs. Roosevelt, as in Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady of the United States at the time.

“Looking back, it was an incredible experience,” Miller said. “I never could’ve imagined something like that would happen back then.”

Miller stayed in Fort Collins throughout his childhood and teenage years. Miller eventually graduated from Fort Collins High School, the building that is now CSU’s University Center for the Arts.

By the time that Miller was deciding on a college, the choice was a no-brainer. His father was an administrator at CSU, he knew a lot of the faculty, and campus was one block away from his house.

Miller was a Ram, born and bred.

He started as a math major, but he said that didn’t last long because he and his advisor “made oil and water look like good buddies.”

He transferred to the major for students that have no clue what they want to do: Arts and Sciences undecided. And luckily, as Miller said, Willard O. Eddy — the namesake of Eddy hall — was assigned to be his advisor.

Eddy, who was hired as an English professor at CSU, but also had a master’s in philosophy, suggested that Miller take an introduction to philosophy course.

And he did. The course was taught by Emanuel Davenport.

“In terms of basic raw teaching, he was maybe the best teacher I’ve ever seen,” Miller said.

From then on, Miller was intrigued by philosophy. By his sophomore year, there were three other philosophy professors at CSU in addition to Eddy and Davenport. At that time, five professors were all that was needed to create a department.

In 1961, Miller became the University’s first philosophy major, though the title of first philosophy graduate was stolen from him a year later by a transfer student from Copenhagen.

“Philosophy sort of spread by word of mouth,” Miller said. “And when you’ve got really good teachers, there’s something seductive about that.”

After graduating, Miller went on to complete his masters and doctorate in philosophy. Throughout his career, he taught the subject as a university professor, primarily at the University of Missouri, Rolla.

“The thing that philosophy does in and of itself is to teach you to think,” Miller said. “To learn that there are two sides or more to every issue, that there’s nothing wrong with being wrong, that the world is an incredibly complicated thing, and, the thing that’s more important than anything else, is that you have to learn how to learn.”

Blake O’Brien can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @BTweetsOB.