Before last week, James St. James was best known as a well-respected psychology professor and department chair at Illinois’ Millikin University.
That has all changed now, following a report by the Georgetown Advocate saying that as a 15-year-old living in Texas, St. James — then James Wolcott — killed his father, mother, and older sister with a .22 calibre rifle. He reportedly told authorities that he hated his family and had been sniffing aeroplane glue for weeks before he fired the deadly shots.
While the murders made national news in 1967, Wolcott was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and was eventually deemed sane and released from a psychiatric hospital seven years later. Wolcott changed his last name to St. James and pursued an education in psychology, eventually earning a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Since the news of St. James’ past has become public, a divide has emerged between those who believe his actions make him unfit to teach and those who have praised him as an educator and argue that he is clearly “cured.”
Perhaps most importantly, Millikin University has supported the professor, saying in a statement that they only recently learned about the murders and expect St. James to continue teaching this fall.
“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 school said.
Milliken students and alumni have also come forward to remember what they describe as an impactful professor.
As one student told CNN, “I think he should stay. He’s been a great professor. He has no reason to leave unless he does something here, you know? He has no reason to step down.”
One Milliken alumna took to the Daily Beast to write a column in support of her former professor, arguing, “Every day that he spends helping educate and research that which caused him to take his family’s life is a way of remembering them and making sure that no one does what he once did.”
However, Republican Congressman Rodney Davis, a Millikin alumnus, recently stated his opposition to St. James’ continued affiliation with the school, telling the Chicago Sun-Times he was concerned about protecting the reputation of his alma mater.
“I’m a parent of a 16-year-old daughter who’ll have to choose a school in a few years. If my daughter said she wanted to be a psych major at Millikin, I hate to say, I’d have some concern,” he said.
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