Administrators at a private university in Illinois are standing by a professor, despite revelations that he shot and killed his father, mother, and teenage sister in 1967.
An award-winning psychology professor and the central Illinois university where he works say he will continue to teach there despite a news report that he was institutionalized as a teenager after killing three family members in Texas.
A story last week in a Texas newspaper, the Georgetown Advocate, identified Millikin University professor James St. James as the person who in 1967 fatally shot his father, mother and teenage sister in the family's home.
According to court records cited by the newspaper, the 15-year-old, then named James Wolcott, sniffed airplane glue before the shooting and had paranoid schizophrenia. Jurors found the boy not guilty by reason of insanity and ordered him held in a state hospital until he became sane. Six years later, he was released.
St. James went on to earn a doctorate in psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, according to his biography on the Millikin website. He joined the faculty in 1986 and later became a department chair at the private college with about 2,380 students.
A quest by the suburban Austin, Texas, newspaper to find Wolcott led reporters to a man with a different name living in Decatur, where he'd built a career as a respected teacher and researcher.
A statement released Thursday by Millikin defended the chair of its Behavioral Sciences Department. Only recently, the statement said, did Millikin learn of the past of the man who once won a Teaching Excellence and Leadership Award.
"Given the traumatic experiences of his childhood, Dr. St. James' efforts to rebuild his life and obtain a successful professional career have been remarkable," the statement said. "The university expects Dr. St. James to teach at Millikin this fall."
St. James answered the phone at his home Thursday afternoon but declined to comment beyond saying that he planned to return to work.
Does tenure really go this deep? That even after reports surface that one of your professors brutally killed three people (his own family, mind you) the same academic is still allowed to mold young minds? Of course, this decision is ultimately up to the school that employs him, and I’m not suggesting that the man should be forcibly removed. If school administrators maintain he’s psychologically fit to continue teaching -- and there haven’t been any incidents since he started working at the university -- who am I to tell them otherwise?
But at the same time here are three parting questions to at least ponder: First, how did he get hired to begin with? Don’t universities do thorough background checks before they hire educators? I mean, the guy acknowledged he killed his own family (although admittedly under a different alias). Second, what do parents think about the school’s breathtaking decision? Might any of them perhaps be a bit concerned that their child’s psychology professor, um, killed his own family in the 1960s? I suspect this is something they might find problematic. And finally, why was Mr. St. James released from a mental institution only after six years? Some murderers kill only one person and spend the rest of their lives in prison, if not face the death penalty. Why was this guy allowed to walk? What does this say about our judicial system?
This might well be the most bizarre article I’ve ever read. What do you guys think about it?