WSU dean fired for sexual misconduct; investigation says Murphy took photos of male students undressed, had pornographic images on work computer

2013-02-02T00:00:00Z 2013-02-02T00:06:18Z WSU dean fired for sexual misconduct; investigation says Murphy took photos of male students undressed, had pornographic images on work computerBy Nathan Hansen Winona Daily News

A Winona State University dean has been fired for having sexually inappropriate relationships with several male students and downloading thousands of pornographic photos on his work computer, the university said Friday.

James William Murphy asked students he worked closely with over the course of several years to describe their sex lives in detail and at times to take off their shirts or get down on their hands and knees, and at multiple occasions he photographed students in his office, including one who was naked from the waist down, according to an independent investigation led at WSU’s request.

Bill Murphy has not been accused of any criminal wrongdoing, and the investigation revealed “no violation of criminal statutes based on the information we obtained,” said Winona Police Department deputy chief Tom Williams.

Murphy, who did not return phone calls Friday, has disputed some of the accusations in the report.

The investigation into Murphy, the former dean of the College of Business, began in early September after an anonymous complaint the previous month from one of his students, said Cristeen Custer, WSU’s vice president of Communications. The investigation cost the university $5,000.

The investigation report details inappropriate behavior dating back to 2009. It describes Murphy’s interactions with five students, though Custer said at least 16 students were involved, primarily from the College of Business and all 18 years of age or older.

The investigator also searched Murphy’s WSU-issued laptop, and found numerous pornographic images of nude males and males engaged in sexual acts, along with several photos of students in Murphy’s office, according to the report.

In some photos, the students were fully clothed, and in others they were shirtless. Several photos from 2009 showed one student in various states of undress, including naked from the waist down and facing the camera, according to the report. In most cases, the students were standing in a particular corner of Murphy’s office that was not visible from the outside.

The report detailed how Murphy built mentoring relationships almost exclusively with male students, meeting with them one-on-one in his office. The conversations often began with talk about the students’ grades and future goals, but then moved into areas that made the students feel uncomfortable and violated, like discussing their insecurities, their relationships and their sex lives, the report said.

In one case, Murphy asked a student to describe his private parts, and asked the student to crouch on his hands and knees so Murphy could kick him, the report said. When the investigator asked Murphy about the incident, Murphy responded that he frequently gave the men what he called his “kick in the butt” speech to motivate them, but that it was never meant to be taken literally.

During his interview with the investigator, Murphy described an incident where one student crawled to the corner of his office and began to drop his pants, at which point Murphy told him to never do that, the report said.

The investigator finished the report Sept. 20, and Murphy was fired Sept. 21. Custer said Murphy had worked from home since the morning of Sept. 10 and didn’t have access to his office or university computer and equipment since that time.

In November, the Daily News requested information on and the status of any complaints made against Murphy. A response from the university said that the August complaint had been closed and no disciplinary action had been taken. WSU officials also said a complaint made against Murphy in October was still under investigation.

The details of the October complaint are unknown. Custer declined to comment, citing data practices law.

While Murphy was fired in September, WSU did not make the investigation public until Friday — more than four months later — because of an ongoing grievance process between the university and Murphy’s collective bargaining unit, Custer said.

The grievance was over whether the university had the right to fire Murphy from his at-will position as dean without returning him to his previous position as a tenured faculty member and without notifying the faculty union of the termination. A second grievance was filed later in October, claiming Murphy was entitled to more than $30,000 in severance pay.

The two sides reached an agreement Jan. 16, and the appeal period ended yesterday, Custer said. According to the agreement, Murphy will drop his grievances and waive any right to file further ones in return for continued access to a health care plan, access to funds in his health care accounts from his time at WSU, and $3,500 of severance pay added to his health care account.

Murphy had been at WSU since 1989, when he was hired to the College of Business faculty. In 2007 Murphy was promoted to be the dean of the college. From 2003 until 2007, he was also the director of College for Kids, a summer education program for students in grades three to eight.

“We are profoundly saddened by this breach of trust,” said WSU president Scott Olson in a statement.

“We will take the steps necessary to address any harm that might have occurred, and remain unwavering in our commitment to ensuring the well-being of our students and providing a positive learning environment.”

Brian Voerding and Jerome Christensen contributed to this story.

Copyright 2015 Winona Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(9) Comments

  1. Rastin
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    Rastin - February 05, 2013 6:48 pm
    It's not clear. Was all of the information about the union's position provided by an administration representative? If so, that's only half the story.

    I don't know what went on behind the scenes with this dispute, but I don't think the union really wanted a person who committed sexual harassment of students returned to the classroom.

    I suspect the real issue was far removed from Murphy's actions. For example, are tenured faculty who take administration positions really at-will employees? If so, then a very good tenured professor who agrees to serve as an interim (temporary) dean could be fired "at will" when a permanent dean was hired. If that's the case, what professor in his/her right mind would ever agree to fill in while a replacement administrator was being sought?

    I suspect it was probably more that type of issue here, but of course, an administration representative would make it sound like the issue was about money and protecting Murphy from the consequences of his actions.
  2. johnboy
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    johnboy - February 02, 2013 8:31 pm
    Ahhh- background checks?
  3. Rock-on
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    Rock-on - February 02, 2013 6:38 pm
    Amen. I agree with you completely.
  4. Mommamel
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    Mommamel - February 02, 2013 6:33 pm
    Murphy was an at will employee thus he wasn't a member of a union.
  5. FrankieWSU
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    FrankieWSU - February 02, 2013 6:07 pm
    This man deserves everything coming to him. I had him when I was a Marketing student at WSU. He is a pompous ***. He has a smug I am better than you attitude about him all the time. I hope he never gets another teaching job again as that is not suited for him. The only bright side to this is he acted only on adults (so far).
  6. killallthelawyersfirst
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    killallthelawyersfirst - February 02, 2013 5:00 pm
    Ms Abigail, I misspelled your nom de plume below...sorry.
  7. killallthelawyersfirst
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    killallthelawyersfirst - February 02, 2013 1:12 pm
    Ms Abigale and Ms Janedoe, +1. Both points carry well. This man deserves all that he has coming, either way.
  8. janedoe
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    janedoe - February 02, 2013 12:15 pm
    So, you think that it should only take an accusation of wrong doing result in termination of employement? Or do you think that there should be an actual investigation of wrong doing before termination? WSU removed Murphy from campus pending investigation. After the investigation was complete, they fired him, very quickly. My reading of the article is that the union filed a grievance based upon procedure, not whether or not the firing was just. In other words, the union wanted WSU to follow the contract. The contract protects the university and also protects the employees. None of this has anything to do with tenure.
  9. Abigail
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    Abigail - February 02, 2013 11:29 am
    This is a pretty good argument for abolishing the tenure system.
    When I went to WSU, there was a vile accounting prof that told us to put whatever we wanted on our course evaluations, but it didn't matter because he would shred them since he had tenure.

    Any union that would even entertain a grievance by this guy, much less fight for him to get $30k in severance pay is disgusting. The thought that they actually fought for him to be returned to his tenured position backs up the perception that unions are bullies and need to be reined in. The union should have been able to remove itself from defending him in any way as soon as the investigation results were in.

    In the real world, when you get fired for sexual misconduct, you don't get to work from home and you NEVER get a severance package! You get escorted out the door and told not to be seen on the property again.
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