Bill Cosby long served as a leading public face and a key fundraiser for Philadelphia’s Temple University, but his alma mater said Thursday it will reconsider an honorary degree awarded to the comedian more than two decades ago, after he was convicted of drugging and molesting a university employee in 2004.
A spokesman for Temple University in Philadelphia said the verdict “provides additional facts for the university to consider” with respect to the honorary degree.
The decision came as Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, and Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, all announced Thursday they would revoke honorary degrees given to Cosby years ago.
Boston College made the opposite decision and a spokesman told the Boston Globe that “as a matter of policy, we do not rescind honorary degrees.”
Cosby received his bachelor’s from Temple and served on its board of trustees for decades before resigning in 2014. He received the honorary degree in 1991.
Board of Trustees Chairman Patrick O’Connor said he will recuse himself from discussions on the honorary degree. O’Connor represented Cosby in 2005 when he first faced allegations of sexual assault from former Temple women’s basketball administrator Andrea Constand.
Cosby almost never attended Temple board meetings over the years, but he was the university’s public face. He also frequently turned out to support the school’s basketball teams, an interest that connected him with Constand.
Constand said she had socialized with Cosby and then sought him out for career advice before he later knocked her out with three blue pills he called “your friends” and then penetrated her with his fingers as she lay immobilized, unable to resist or say no.
Even before the verdict, more than 20 colleges and universities across the U.S. had revoked honorary degrees from Cosby in light of allegations against him.
Ohio State University’s governing board pulled a 2001 degree from Cosby this month in the days leading up to his retrial.
Colleges across the country have struggled to decide whether to strip honors from men whose reputations have been tarnished in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
Some have been quick to cut ties, including the University at Buffalo, which revoked an honorary degree from disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein, and Fordham University, which pulled an honor from fired news anchor Charlie Rose.
But others besides Boston College have refused. The Juilliard School in New York, which gave an honorary doctorate to actor Kevin Spacey in 2000, said it does not rescind such honors.
Although it traditionally has been rare for schools to rescind honorary degrees retroactively, experts say it has become more common in light of the #MeToo movement. Some schools have been pressured to strip honors by students, faculty or outside critics.
Often it’s up to a school’s governing board to approve and revoke honorary degrees, which are often awarded to notable alumni or graduation speakers.