During the brief period in which Miami University officials were actively looking into Ronald Tammen’s disappearance, Carl Knox had written three names on a legal pad. The first name was Prof. Dennison, which makes total sense. J. Belden Dennison was a revered professor of finance at Miami in addition to being an academic adviser to students in the Business School, Ron included. If I were Carl Knox, I, too, would have reached out to Dennison—“Denny” as his colleagues liked to call him. Denny would have let Knox know about how Ron had been falling behind in his coursework that year. He would have been a little perplexed when Knox informed him that Ron’s psychology book was left open on his desk the evening of his disappearance.
“Are you sure it was his psychology book, Carl?” Denny might have asked.
“That’s right—by Norman Munn. It was open to a section on Habits…or maybe he was reading about post-hypnotic suggestion on the righthand page. I don’t know.”
“Hmmm. That’s weird,” Denny would probably say. “Tammen had dropped his psychology course just recently. I know because I signed his withdrawal slip.”
The third name on the list was Prof. Switzer, instructor of said psychology course. We’ve gotten to know Doc Switzer quite well over the years on this blog site. In fact, if he knew how many column-inches I’d be dedicating to his, um, extracurricular activities, I’m guessing the super-secretive Switzer would be rolling over in his grave right about now. (Sorry, Doc, but you fascinate me.)
It’s the second name on the list that we’ll be focusing on today: Prof. Delp.
In 1952-53, Richard T. Delp was an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology. He, St. Clair Switzer, and Ted Perin, another Miami psychology professor who’d studied under Clark Hull, shared office space in room 118 of old Harrison Hall. I’ve mentioned earlier on this blog site that the inclusion of Delp’s name in the #2 position of Knox’s list is especially curious since Ron wasn’t taking a course from him. Why would Carl Knox think that Richard Delp could provide useful information concerning Ron Tammen?
Richard Delp was the consummate teacher. He loved to learn and he loved to teach. In fact, his zeal for learning made it somewhat difficult to pin down his area of expertise. As an undergraduate at Miami, he majored in psychology and sociology for his bachelor of arts degree, and the next year, he earned a bachelor of science degree in biology and English. As for biology, he especially enjoyed the flora and fauna of Ohio, and he seemed to get a lot of joy out of his farm on Morning Sun Road, where he would host picnics and lead groups of students on nature hikes. He built a cabin there for use by the local Boy Scouts, an organization he was active in for decades. A year after graduating with his B.S. degree, Delp earned his master’s, also from Miami, in education.
Delp’s academic career at Miami began in 1945-46, when he was hired by the English Department. (He taught recognition and code at the Naval School on campus for several months during WWII, although info is conflicting regarding the precise timeframe. Also, it was war-related so we’re not counting it here.) In 1946-47, he moved to the Department of Psychology, where Dr. Patten, the chair, probably felt incredibly fortunate to have found him. Throughout the war, the department had been chugging along on fumes as several faculty members had left their professorial posts to serve in the armed forces, including Switzer. After the war was over, the student population nearly doubled the next academic year, from 2345 to 4559. Courses in general psychology were back in high demand, jumping from 9 sections in 1945-46 to 22 in 1946-47. The department needed qualified people to teach heavy course loads throughout each day. Although Switzer had returned to Oxford, he wouldn’t be teaching for several more years as he was helping counsel returning veterans about possible career options. Richard Delp would have been a lifesaver to help carry some of the burden.
But there were aspects to academia that Delp struggled with, one of the main hurdles being the pursuit of a doctorate degree.
Currently, anyone who aspires to teach at a university generally progresses straight through their educational training, from undergraduate degree to doctorate, oftentimes earning a master’s degree along the way. He or she then performs post-doctoral research somewhere until finally landing a position as an assistant professor, usually somewhere else. It’s a long and arduous process, but essential. Having a doctorate is pretty much a prerequisite to getting your foot inside the door as a faculty member at a university.
That’s only the beginning. You’ve heard of the phrase “publish or perish”? It’s definitely a thing. As soon as a person is hired as an assistant professor, they have several years in which to publish as many papers as they can, plus do anything else to stand out among their peers: acquire grants, serve on university committees, accrue some grad students, hobnob at professional meetings, deliver presentations, take part in media interviews—establish themselves as an expert. They also have to teach a bunch of classes, which includes grading a ton of papers. A cake walk it is not.
After several years, the promotion and tenure committee holds a high-def magnifying lens to that person’s accomplishments and decides if they deserve to be promoted to associate professor. If the answer is yes, they’re usually granted tenure—job security—at roughly the same time, generally after a probationary period. An answer of no is tantamount to being fired, and they need to begin a job search. Of course the process by which an associate professor is promoted to full professor requires more of the above, although they’ll still have a job if they should be turned down since they already have tenure.
Back in Delp’s day, there was a little more wiggle room. A person holding a master’s degree might be hired as an instructor or even an assistant professor. Such new hires would be expected to work toward a higher degree, and Delp certainly worked toward his. After Patten hired him in 1946-47 as an instructor, Delp began taking graduate classes at The Ohio State University that summer. He continued doing so during the summers of ’48 and ‘49, and in 1949-50, he attended graduate school full-time, residing in Columbus. His research thesis was on student ratings of college instructors. When he returned to Oxford in 1950, he was promoted to assistant professor in psychology, which was accompanied by a nice pay raise. In the summer of ’51, he was back to commuting to Ohio State to work on his research.
However, he didn’t finish his dissertation. With no dissertation, there’s no Ph.D. And with no Ph.D., well…he probably shouldn’t have been teaching the courses he was teaching. The 1950 faculty manual stipulated for assistant professors “whose major responsibility is the teaching of academic classes, the doctor’s degree or its equivalent from an accredited college or university shall be required.”
Can I just interject here that I feel for the guy? Spending nine months a year teaching hundreds of students and grading thousands of papers and then taking time off during the summer months to take graduate classes—which he excelled at—and conduct research sounds like a hard life with no let-up. By 1952, he didn’t do anything more toward his degree at Ohio State, according to his transcripts. Goodbye, Columbus.
On October 15, 1952, someone in a position of authority—I’m guessing it was Patten—had a sit-down with Delp to discuss his situation. The supervisor reminded Delp that his probationary period as an assistant professor was nearing an end and if he didn’t have his Ph.D. “by the end of 1953-54, the question of his retention might arise.” Delp vowed to discuss the matter with the folks at Ohio State and to work out a plan to “finish for his degree” by 1954. To soften the tone of his write-up, the supervisor added in the last paragraph that Delp was extremely busy with teaching and that “he seems to be happy with the work which he is doing with the Business students…,” though the supervisor doesn’t specify what work Delp was doing.
As we all know, the next semester, Ron Tammen, a sophomore business student at Miami, went missing, and Delp’s name as well as that of his office mate, St. Clair Switzer, who taught Tammen’s General Psychology course, were jotted down in Carl Knox’s notes.
The year 1954 came and went, and Delp still hadn’t made headway toward his doctoral degree. A review of his accomplishments for January 1, 1954–June 1, 1955 shows none of the activities expected of someone in his position. Other than joining several professional organizations—paying his dues, basically—his form is mostly left blank. (Inexplicably, activities for subsequent years were written into the space for the last question.)
You might think that it would have been the end of the line for him. With no Ph.D. and no publications or any other accomplishments to speak of other than teaching, you’d think that the year 1954 would have been his last in the psychology department. But you’d be mistaken.
In 1954, Richard Delp was granted “indefinite tenure” according to his administrative one-sheeter, though he remained an assistant professor. He also received sizable pay increases for that year and the succeeding year, which are difficult to explain based on his 1954-55 progress review form.
The 1950 faculty manual defined tenure as “a means to certain ends, specifically: (1) Freedom of teaching and research and of extra-mural activities, and (2) A sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive to men and women of ability.”
Despite being granted tenure, Richard Delp resigned from his position in psychology in 1961, shortly before Switzer was named department chair. In her book “Eighty Year of Psychology at Miami,” Fern Patten said that it was for health reasons. Two years later, he would be hired by the School of Education, where he would receive accolades as an outstanding professor.
But my question is this: what happened between October 1952, when a supervisor was warning Delp about his precarious academic position, and academic year 1953-1954, when he received the first of two big pay increases, not to mention indefinite tenure, which was awarded in 1954?
I’m only asking the question, guys. There may be a perfectly good explanation.
Salary progression during time in the Psychology Department
I’ll be turning comments off for this one. I am continuing to seek documents that could help address my question. If you have thoughts on this topic or if you happen to have additional information, feel free to DM me on Facebook or Twitter or email me at email@example.com. Requests for anonymity will be honored.
As a postscript, it’s hard to believe that a year has passed since we lost Marcia Tammen, who passed away on August 31, 2020. We miss her so much, and in her memory and honor, we will continue seeking evidence that may one day tell us what happened to her brother Ron.