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.
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.