Students shocked, disgusted after CMU education professor found with child porn



William Lord Merrill always taught his students to cite their sources and maintain academic integrity, said Ashley Tocco, a former student of Merrill's.

"And look what he was doing, behind all our backs. It disgusts me," said Tocco, a Macomb senior who took EDU290: Technology in Education with Merrill last year. "He, as a professor of future educators, should know better than that. In fact, all professors at (CMU) should know better than that. I honestly can't think of any other emotions besides disgust, shock and horror.”

Merrill, 58, was suspended by CMU and banned from campus Monday after an IT employee servicing his computer discovered photos and video containing sexually abusive activity. According to a previous Central Michigan Life story, Merrill’s Internet was shut off due to excessive use, believed to be from downloading photos and videos of child pornography.

The Mount Pleasant native is charged in Isabella County Trial Court Thursday with one count of possession of sexually abusive material, one count of distributing or promoting sexually abusive material, two counts of using a computer to commit a crime and a misdemeanor charge of possessing a switchblade.

Merrill taught two undergraduate and two graduate-level courses this semester, all of which have been taken over by other professors. Hudsonville junior Courtney McGregor is currently enrolled in the honors section of EDU 290 with Merrill and said he was always enthusiastic and passionate in class.

“He is always very prepared for class, enthusiastic about the subject, and always extremely easy to contact with any questions — he is always willing to help,” she said. “Honestly, I am quite surprised by these charges. As educators, we are held to rather high standards, and Dr. Merrill has personally discussed this in classes.

"In our class, much of what we cover is how to use technology safely within education, discussing specific things we need to avoid especially with the Internet — making the charges even more ironic.”

McGregor said Merrill’s actions will temporarily taint the education program, but said the program’s prestige will allow it to maintain a positive reputation.

“Based on the way in which the education department handled the situation, I believe the department will be OK,” she said. “I do not, however, believe this will be soon overlooked. These charges will still be connected with the CMU name for a little while. However, I do not feel this should impact education students. Just because a single professor may have done something extremely inappropriate and unacceptable, the entire program does not need to be looked down upon.”

Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson, dean of the College of Education and Human Services, said the professionalism of everybody involved with the case has been admirable.

“I am very proud of the professional manner in which all students, staff and faculty members of the College of Education and Human Services and CMU have responded to this situation,” Pehrsson said in an emailed statement. “The actions taken to protect all those concerned were timely and appropriate.”

Merrill’s office is located on the fourth floor of the EHS building, and university officials say he did not have contact with children in the Child Development and Learning Lab, which hosts many children throughout the week, located on the first floor.

“(Merrill) had no connection to or role with the Child Development and Learning Lab. A review of our visitor records shows he has not been in the lab,” Pehrsson said in a letter sent to all parents of children involved with the Learning Lab.

Tocco said it’s important for future education students to avoid letting Merrill’s case deter them from attending CMU.

“Great teachers are made because of this teaching department. Don't let one guy ruin that for you. Become the teacher you strive to be and have pride that you obtained your education from Central,” she said. “I take pride in being a student in the education program at Central, and this changes nothing.”

Merrill remains housed at the MidMichigan Medical Center-Gratiot psych ward. It is unknown when he will be arraigned in Isabella County Trial Court.

 


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