Members of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship who regularly attend the society’s Annual General Meeting will remember James DeLater for his wit, his anecdotes, his erudition, and his cigarette and hat. A royalist and a patriotic American, it was not always clear whether James was being sincere or putting one on. It might have been that putting people on about something for long enough invisibly brought James to espouse it sincerely.
At last year’s meeting, after a bit of discussion of the political left and right, James reminded us that we had neglected his area of the spectrum, the reactionaries.
James died just before American Thanksgiving, at his home, in Jackson, Missouri. He was in his early 70s.
James served in the US Army from 1968 to 1970, during part of which time he was stationed in Long Binh, Republic of Vietnam. In 1997, he received his doctorate in English, Comparative Literature, and Translation from the University of Washington. He had previously earned two Master of Arts degrees, one in English, one in History. As a translator, he worked in Greek, Latin, French, Italian, and German.
James is the author of Translation Theory in the Age of Louis XIV: “The 1683 De optimo genere interpretandi of Pierre Daniel Huet (1630-1721)” (Routledge, 2002).
On 5 November 2003, in his third year as a visiting assistant professor at Hillsdale College, in Michigan, Dr DeLater was fired for “misconduct, including inappropriate activity with a student” and “complaints and concerns over his teaching style,” according to the 20 November 2003 Hillsdale Collegian. One student interviewed by the paper said “I never met anyone personally offended by what he said. Everyone thought he was joking. They did think it was interesting for a professor to be joking so freely.”
From the same article in The Collegian: “Professor of Christianity and Literature John Reist Jr. described the feeling many faculty members have had regarding DeLater. ‘We’ve always thought Jim represented excellent top-notch scholarship, openness and freedom of debate,’ he said.”
The “inappropriate activity with a student” was his early relationship with his future wife, who was then a Hillsdale student though no longer in any of James’s courses. James wrote about the case in the SAFS Newsletter of September 2015, “Tread Carefully in the Lives of Professors and their Former Students” (https://www.safs.ca/newsletters/article.php?article=878).
After his dismissal from Hillsdale, James taught on a per-course basis at various universities, travelled, translated, attended SAFS meetings, with his wife raised a child, complained about declining standards of scholarship, and wrote both academically and for a popular audience.
According to SAFS member Kirby Olson, “His best part was that he was a profound Catholic scholar in the vein of René Girard.”