Oregon State UniversitySpecial Collections & Archives Research Center
Happenstance or Providence: How I found all my jobs
Page 9

Fritz Medicus.
Fritz Medicus.
Image courtesy of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zürich.

Back at Maryland I continued my leave of absence to work on a book. Later, in 1946, the new president of Marietta College in Ohio persuaded me to move there. I had met William Shimer years before when he taught philosophy at Bucknell University. Now he wanted to rebuild Marietta around philosophy as the core subject of the curriculum, a plan I had long hoped to see realized at some college or university.

Shimer's invitation was no mere coincidence. But it was a weird coincidence that kept me from returning to Switzerland. Already when worrying my way out of engineering I began to harbor the hope that, some day, I might be fit to become the successor of my venerated teacher, Fritz Medicus. Now he was retiring at seventy, in 1946. Because he had taught at the Institute of Technology for thirty-five years his opinion regarding a successor counted heavily. He knew of my hope but did not inform me that he intended to nominate me. Like the Swiss universities the Institute at Zurich let the faculty make three nominations to fill a vacancy. The post would then be offered to the first nominee and if he declined to the next in line. If all three declined, new nominations were in order. Only after having persuaded the nominating committee to put my name in the first place, did Medicus write me a letter about it. It arrived a day after my interview in Marietta. Here was the long hoped for call to make use of what I had learned about teaching philosophy, during my years in America, and to serve in my native country. For a week Gertrude and I pondered the question, Marietta or Zürich. We finally decided our children would have better opportunities here, and so I told Medicus. His second man, Professor Thévenaz from Neuchâtel obtained the chair. Now if I had been in Medicus' shoes, I'd have gone directly from the nominating committee meeting to the telegraph offic to send a two word cable: "First place." That message would have kept me from going to Marietta for the interview. But Medicus was not Americanized and sent a letter instead of a cable. Weird timing!