Jim Patten, former department head, dies at 83

June 6, 2018
Jim Patten

Jim Patten



Professor Emeritus Jim Patten, who helped save the University of Arizona journalism program from elimination in the mid-1990s during his time as department head, died June 5 in Prescott after being diagnosed with lung cancer on May 17. He was 83.

Patten led the department from 1991 to 2000 and taught at UA from 1983 to 2000. He also was an adjunct instructor from 2006 to 2009. 

"He was a pillar of strength when the then journalism department was threatened with closure," retired Prof. Jim Johnson said. "That the department, now school, is still thriving is a tribute to his leadership."

After the UA administration announced closure plans in 1994, Patten led a group of alums, community supporters, news executives, faculty and students in lobbying then-President Manuel Pacheco, the Arizona Board of Regents and the state Legislature to save the program.

"Journalism alums from all over the country flooded the UA president's office with protest letters," Patten said in 2016. "The president called me once to ask if I could discourage the letter campaign. Fat chance. The press was offended and plainly in our corner. ... Current students joined the struggle, organizing pro-journalism protests and events."

The faculty Senate voted 37-3 in 1995 to save the department, which was designated as a school in 2008 by the Board of Regents.

"Jim led the department through its most difficult time," said Jacqueline Sharkey, who succeeded Patten as department head in 2000. "Jim organized the effort that saved the department. ... Then he led the rebuilding process that resulted in the department again being recognized nationally as a leader in journalism education."

Patten became the first UA journalism professor to earn a named professorship when he was named the Soldwedel Family Professor of Journalism in 1998. Patten was cited for outstanding teaching by the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. He also was elected to the Hall of Fame of the Arizona Interscholastic Press Association. 

"Jim was completely dedicated to journalism education, as a faculty member and administrator," Sharkey said. "His primary focus was on developing the finest curriculum, so the next generation entering the profession would be thoughtful journalists who could provide the public with the information that people need to make informed decisions about their government."

Patten was "a very good and strict teacher on the basics," said George Ridge, former department head, and he also had a kind side, said his former students.

"He encouraged us not only to seek the truth, but also to challenge what we think we know," Jen Duffy, a 2003 grad and former Arizona Daily Star reporter, wrote on Facebook. "His mentorship and friendship made a lasting impression in my life."

"Jim Patten was a true champion of Big Journalism, and a heck of a nice guy," added Morgan Loew ('96), an investigative television reporter with CBS 5 in Phoenix.

As a senior, Gawain Douglas ('93) was hired by Patten to teach him how to use his new Mac and applications.

"Prof. Patten was keen to modernize the department and also had me help other professors and set up computers for classwork," said Douglas, a former Arizona Daily Star and Tucson Citizen journalist who is now vice president of publishing at Learning A-Z.

Patten taught at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln from 1967-80, then at the University of Texas El Paso before coming to UA in 1983. At Nebraska, he influenced many students and colleagues and won the university's highest teaching award.

"I owe a great deal to any success I've had as an author to Jim," said Johnson, who has written seven books, including a biography on Rep. Morris K. Udall with the late Donald W. Carson. "Jim believed in me when I embarked on my first book. He was supportive of me in almost any project I tackled. That's what a department head and a friend does. ...

"I also appreciated his dry Nebraska wit and hearing about his beloved Nebraska football team," Johnson said.

Patten worked as a reporter at newspapers throughout the country, including the Des Moines Register, Omaha World-Herald and Philadelphia Inquirer.

He earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Nebraska and a master's in journalism from Iowa State.

Patten co-authored two books for students "Journalism Today," and "Opportunities in Journalism Careers.

He is survived by children Billie Patten StewartMike Patten and Julie Patten, and his life partner for the last four years, Iyone Meyer. Patten's wife, Patricia, died in 2013.

Meyer said Patten and the family learned of his cancer diagnosis only 2 1/2 weeks before his death. He had no prior symptoms, she said, died at Marley House in Prescott after a brief time of hospice care. "We are grateful that his time of suffering was short," she said.

A celebration of Patten's life is pending, Mike Patten said on Facebook while thanking former students for their remembrances.

"He loved each one of you and closely followed your lives long after you left school," Mike Patten said. "He was always touched by those who kept in contact and cherished your phone calls, emails, notes and cards."

Mike Patten suggested sending a memorial in his father's honor to any organization "related to encouraging a free and vigorous press."