A rift between friends: Did Doc Switzer and Everett Patten have a falling out?

Well hello there! Good to see you. As you may know, we’re currently awaiting word from Miami University officials regarding the two remaining Oral History Project recordings that weren’t posted to the university’s bicentennial website back in 2009. We’re especially interested in the recording that was ostensibly titled “Miami Hockey Coaches,” since our running theory is that there really isn’t a recording of Miami hockey coaches at all, but rather a tape of Carl Knox’s former secretary that had been mislabeled. As soon as I receive their response, no matter what it is, I have a blog post all raring to go. Here’s a sneak peek at the three possible headlines:

A. Amazing news: Miami U has just released the recording of Carl Knox’s former secretary; OR

B. Miami U found the tape. It really is just a bunch of hockey coaches; OR

C. Miami U can’t produce the hockey coach tape. Here’s why that’s a very big deal.

So, that’ll be fun, even if it turns out to be Option B, which is clearly the least thrilling one. (Sorry, Miami hockey coaches, but we’re on a mission here. Maybe under different circumstances, we’d be more interested in hearing your tales of puck hoisting, flip passing, sweep checking, and whatnot, but now’s just not that time.) 

In the meantime, let’s talk a little more about St. Clair Switzer and Everett Patten, the two heavyweights in Miami’s psychology department when Ron Tammen was a student. As you’ll recall, both men had studied under the eminent psychologist Clark Hull and both had expertise in hypnosis. Doc Switzer was Ron’s general psychology professor during both the fall and spring semesters of 1952-1953, though, for whatever reason, Ron had dropped his course both times. Patten, who’d been teaching psychology courses at Miami for roughly 30 years by then and had served in its highest post for 20 of those years, was also a familiar face in the corridors of old Harrison Hall. Based on everything that I’ve read, Patten and Switzer had gotten along well. 

In the early days of their association, the dynamic between Patten and Switzer was one of mentor and student. Patten was seven years older than Switzer. In 1924, as Switzer was beginning his undergraduate courses at Miami, Patten was an assistant professor there. He’d completed his master’s degree under Hull at the University of Wisconsin and would soon be working toward his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago. It’s a near certainty that Patten had talked Hull up to his promising protégé. And in 1928, when Switzer had decided he’d like to pursue his master’s degree under Hull too, I’m sure Patten wrote to Hull on Switzer’s behalf enthusiastically recommending him as a graduate student. 

If it hadn’t been for Everett Patten, St. Clair Switzer likely wouldn’t have encountered Clark Hull, let alone been able to hitch his wagon to Hull’s luminous star. 

By the early 1930s, Switzer’s relationship with Hull appeared to be growing closer than Patten’s had been, which seemed to alter the dynamic between Patten and Switzer. While Patten had only worked with Hull for his master’s degree, Switzer had earned his master’s with Hull and was now working with him for his doctorate too, this time at Yale. Though Patten had continued to correspond frequently with Hull and performed experiments for him at Miami, Switzer was on the receiving end of more in-person Hull time. There would be regularly scheduled tête-à-têtes; impromptu pop-ins; and the occasional bonding over breakfasts, brown bag lunches, dinners, and post-Prohibition drinks with Hull and his stellar cadre of graduate students. Switzer was playing in the big leagues now and it appeared to be going to his head. 

Such was the backdrop in March 1934, as Hull and his team were still riding high on the recent publication of his book Hypnosis and Suggestibility, that Switzer typed a letter to Patten on cream-colored Yale letterhead. In the space of three pages, he exudes unbridled arrogance as he first discusses an experiment that he and Hull would like Patten to conduct for them—an experiment for which Patten had needed some additional clarification.

“Dear Pat,” Switzer opened, “When your letter arrived this morning the boss and I decided that it was time for us to go into a huddle and find out where we had confused you on the program of running subjects.” 

I mean, it’s not quite “Pat, Pat…What were you thinking?”, but it’s close. He then explains step-by-step what he and Hull needed Patten to do for them. 

Switzer gets even higher and mightier on page 2, when he broaches one of his favorite subjects: money. At that time, psychology at Miami was part of the Philosophy and Psychology Department, with Everett Patten heading up the psychology side. (Psychology became its own department in 1943.) Patten was the person who’d granted Switzer leave to pursue his Ph.D. at Yale. Now, Switzer is informing him that a professor in philosophy, W.W. Spencer, and President Upham had been discussing Switzer’s possible return between themselves, sans Patten. Spencer had expressed interest in having Switzer teach a course in logic on top of his psychology courses, and Upham was in favor. Here’s where Switzer makes his big ask:

“So I’m anxiously waiting to hear what [President Upham] has to offer in the way of salary. If you have a talk with prexy [a nickname for a university president that I’d never heard of before St. Clair Switzer came into my life] I hope you’ll try to persuade him that I’m worth not a cent less than $2000, and more if possible! Also, as I have held the position and rank of instructor here you might suggest the rank of associate there. I know that I’m not likely to get these things, but there is a possibility and now is the time to take advantage of it. I feel that if I’m worth $2500 to Yale I must have at least an equal value for Miami, but there’s no use trying to get it. However, I like Miami and I like to work with you, and I like to teach psychology, so I’m willing to pass up some things to come back.”

Seriously, St. Clair? His ballsiness and fake modesty all smushed into a single paragraph is bizarre. But I think my biggest beef is with his use of an exclamation point when making a salary request. Who does that? It’s important to note that the $2000 figure is actually $300 less than what he was earning as an assistant professor before he left Miami for Yale. But this was the Great Depression, and Miami had been cutting salaries, not handing out raises. His request to be promoted to an associate—as in an associate professor—at this stage in his career is laughable, even back then when the rules were a little more relaxed than they are today. As it turns out, Miami offered him a salary of $2100. As for the promotion to associate professor, Switzer wouldn’t get that until 1939.

Here’s a little more of what Switzer had to say to his boss and former mentor further on in his letter: “I’ve been terribly busy during the last two weeks trying to put the finishing touches on my dissertation. Boy, am I anxious to get things finished and get back and have a look at you again. It certainly will be great to sit across the desk from you again—if I may have my old desk back again.”

I mean, we’re all adults here. We’re able to discern a load of disingenuousness when we hear it, right? Despite Switzer’s supposed eagerness to have a look at Patten from across their shared desk in the west tower of old Harrison Hall, I’ve learned from other letters he’d written over the same period that he was upset at how tight money had become in Oxford. He’d been putting his feelers out elsewhere. A month earlier, he’d attempted to secure a fellowship from the National Research Council so that he could work at Stanford alongside fellow Yale graduate Ernest “Jack” Hilgard, thus bolstering his research credentials and opening up new doors to who knows where. A month after he wrote his letter to Patten, he applied for a job in the Office of Industrial Relations at Procter and Gamble in Cincinnati. But the fellowship didn’t pan out and neither did P&G and, by September 1934, he was back at Miami, staring at Patten’s pencil mustache and receding hairline from across their communal desk. 

Whether Switzer was happy about returning to Miami or not, Patten had come through for him once again.

But that was Patten’s management style. He aimed to keep his staff happy while also meeting the demands of tuition-paying students. Switzer, who didn’t seem to relish the part of academia that involved teaching—he liked doing research far better—was always on the look-out for prestigious side gigs, particularly those having to do with the federal government, the U.S. military, or both. Usually, the opportunities were temporary, summers mostly, and Patten could be counted on to lend his support.

During World War II, Switzer left the psychology department for a much longer period than normal, although he wasn’t alone. Many professors at the university joined the armed services. In June 1942, he signed up to work in test development at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. By August, he was commissioned as an officer in clinical psychology for the U.S. Army Air Forces, and there he remained for 3 ½ years, continually advancing in leadership posts all the way up to his role as chief of demobilization procedures at U.S. Army Headquarters in Washington, D.C. When the war was over, he returned to Oxford in December 1945, yet he still didn’t return to the psychology department. Instead, he worked as chief vocational appraiser for returning GIs in the Veterans Administration Guidance Center at University Hospital. Not until the fall of 1948-49 did he return full-time to the Department of Psychology to teach some courses. 

Think about that—Switzer was away for over six years and he still had a job to come back to. 

Switzer’s career continued to flourish thanks in large part to Patten’s benevolence and accommodating nature. In the post-WWII years, Switzer would continue to periodically request leave from his departmental responsibilities whenever Uncle Sam sought his services as a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves. He made himself available for other opportunities as well, including briefly working as a consultant for the Air Research and Development Command in Baltimore in 1951. If, as I strongly believe, he was approached in 1952 to help out the CIA with their interrogation endeavors, aka Project ARTICHOKE, I’m sure he went all in with that effort too.

We already know what happened in the spring of 1953. Doc Switzer was back to teaching full-time in the classroom when a student of his—Ron Tammen—disappeared after dropping Switzer’s course for a second time that year. It probably irked old Doc that Ron had left his psychology book open on his desk before disappearing, since it brought some unwanted attention his way. He was questioned by investigators, though if he knew anything, the information he provided was never made public. Likewise, Switzer’s name never made it into news articles concerning the Tammen case. Instead, it was his old friend and mentor, Everett Patten, who would occasionally speak to reporters (particularly those reporters who were affiliated with the university) on the topic of Ron Tammen and why Miami was leaning so hard toward amnesia as the most likely reason Ron disappeared.

The tl;dr of all of the above is that Everett Patten had Switzer’s back for as long as he was in a position of power at Miami, and he proved it over and over and over.

In 1961, Everett Patten stepped down as department chair, recommending that Switzer be named to replace him. For a long time, I was bemused by that move. Why would he step down as department chair but not retire at the same time?

I think I know now. It had to do with the university’s retirement policy back then. In 1960, Patten had turned 65, the age at which the university required that a faculty member’s tenured appointment be converted to an annual appointment (which is insane and no longer the case). He would then have the opportunity to work an additional five years, with his appointment being renewed each year until he reached the age of 70, at which time he would be required to retire.

But Patten had a slight advantage. The university’s cut-off date was July 1, so if a person turned 65 by that date, their tenured appointment ended June 30 of the current academic year. But Patten was born on July 7, which meant that he could work through another entire academic year—until June 1961—before being switched over to an annual appointment. Likewise, even though he’d be turning 70 on July 7, 1965, he could feasibly work until June 1966 before mandatory retirement. It’s confusing, and this paragraph took me an embarrassing amount of time to write, but it’s important for this story. Just hang with me, people!

So the short answer is that in 1961, Patten was preparing to change over to an annual appointment. He couldn’t serve as chair of a department without knowing where he’d be from year to year, could he? So he stepped down and got his long-time colleague, St. Clair Switzer, to take over for him while he would continue teaching until he’d finally retire.

But retirement is a complicated prospect. The word itself sounds so old and exhausted. (I think it’s the root word “tire” that brings everyone down so much.) I’ll never forget the time I was stewing about my own early retirement with two friends over lychee martinis and dim sum near Dupont Circle. One of them looked at me and said very matter-of-factly, “Don’t think of it as retirement, think of it as rewirement.” Which is brilliant, right? Think of it as a chance to do the stuff that you never had the chance to do before because you never had the time—like dive into the Ron Tammen case, for example. So yeah! Rewirement, baby!

Man, I could really go for some dim sum right about now; Photo by K8 on Unsplash

Unfortunately, Everett Patten didn’t have the pleasure of meeting my friends over lychee martinis when he was at his crossroads. He was harboring different thoughts. According to university documents, Patten first thought he might like to retire in June 1964 because of “ill health,” and he told Switzer as much. Switzer actually told him to think it over a little more, and Patten indeed changed his mind and decided to retire in June 1965.  Switzer agreed. But then, Patten must have remarked to one or more people that he was considering making use of the July 1 cut-off and retiring in June 1966. When Switzer found out, he wasn’t having it. Instead of talking with Patten one-on-one, he wrote a letter to acting President Wilson, telling him:

“Dear Ray: I notified Dean Limper several months ago that I plan to terminate Professor Patten’s appointment as of June 1965. Technically, he would be eligible for an additional year since his 70th birthday falls on July 7, 1965, one week after the official deadline. However, for reasons which I have outlined to Dean Limper, it seems that the best interests of the department will be furthered by termination of his appointment next June.”

Later on, he says: “I have not yet informed him of my decision to relieve him of his duties next year (June 1965), since I’m hoping that he will make this choice himself. However, it has come to my attention from other sources that he now hopes to invoke the technicality of his 70th birthday falling one week after July 1, 1965 to request an extra year. In this case I shall have the unpleasant task of refusing this request.”

And he ends with this:

“I thought you should have these notes for your file in the event that he should appeal my decision. I can only say in advance that under no circumstances would I alter this decision.”

In a follow-up memo to the president, several months later, he wrote:

“My decision to ask for termination of his appointment in June is based on consideration of the best interests of the Department of Psychology. I have explained to Dean Don James some of the reasons that impelled me to this decision.”

That memo was dated December 28, 1964, and on January 7, 1965, Everett Patten submitted his resignation to acting President Charles Wilson at the request of Dean Don James. It was short, but painful.

“Dear Ray: In order to comply with your request, transmitted to me by Dean Don James, I hereby tender my resignation from the Miami University Staff, this to take effect June 30, 1965. Sincerely, E.F. Patten.” (President Wilson’s reply is lovely and deserves a read.)

Sorry, but I can’t tell you why Switzer had taken his harsh stance against his former boss and mentor who had helped him get to where he was in life. Switzer made a point of not putting his reasons in writing. I will say this: I don’t know what the health issue was that was affecting Patten in 1964,  but it’s my understanding that the health issue that Patten died of in September 1966 happened quickly. I’ve seen nothing to indicate that his brain was deteriorating or that he was somehow showing worrisome signs of aging. In February 1963, 1½ years before Switzer wrote his letter to President Wilson, Patten had joined on with other psychology professors in the tri-state area to form a behavioral science firm. That doesn’t sound like someone who was slipping.

I’ve wondered if perhaps Ron Tammen’s disappearance might have had something to do with it. Had Patten put two and two together and asked Switzer if perhaps he’d orchestrated it? 

I don’t know, but something must have set him off.

********

Correction: Letters that I’ve rediscovered between Switzer and Pres Upham indicate that Switzer was offered $2100 to return to Miami from Yale, not $2160. I’ve made the change.

4 thoughts on “A rift between friends: Did Doc Switzer and Everett Patten have a falling out?

  1. Random thoughts:
    My Grammar Nazi tendencies are sky high after reading another Switzer letter.

    I am retired in the sense I was tired yesterday and am tired today.

    The rift could have been anything, so speculation might tend toward the realm of confirmation bias.

    1. 1) yeah, his stuff is always a treat; 2) good one! 3) yeah, yeah, I know it could be anything, but you have to admit that he feels super strong about this, and it’s an extreme move to, in effect, fire the former department chair 3 years after he recommended you as his replacement. We’ll never know what happened–he made sure of that when he didn’t put his allegations in writing. I’m just throwing it out as a possibility, since they both had a Tammen connection and I think a lot was going on behind the scenes to keep certain details secret. Regardless, it’s a weird and sad ending to their relationship.

  2. Wow. Switzer was not only an ungrateful jerk, he also misused the word “anxiously”—confusing it with “eagerly”—at least twice in his correspondence! College much?

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