After Cosby's conviction, his alma mater rescinds honorary degree

Published April 28, 2018, 6:18 AM

by Hannah Torregoza 

(Reuters) – Temple University on Friday rescinded an honorary doctorate it had awarded to Bill Cosby, a longtime fundraiser and graduate of the Philadelphia school, where years later he met the victim of the sexual assault that resulted in his conviction this week.

Actor and comedian Bill Cosby exits the Montgomery County Courthouse after a jury convicted him in a sexual assault retrial in Norristown, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 26, 2018. (Reuters/Brendan McDermid) /
Actor and comedian Bill Cosby exits the Montgomery County Courthouse after a jury convicted him in a sexual assault retrial in Norristown, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 26, 2018. (Reuters/Brendan McDermid)

Temple joined several other major U.S. universities that have taken back honorary degrees since Thursday’s verdict, reflecting a broader reappraisal of the 80-year-old comedian’s place in American culture.

“Today the Temple University Board of Trustees has accepted the recommendation of the University to rescind the (1991) honorary degree,” the school said in a statement.

The announcement by Temple followed withdrawals by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. All embraced Cosby years ago when he was celebrated as a beloved black comedian who had transcended racial divides to become “America’s Dad.”

Following the decision by Temple, Boston College said on Twitter it had also decided to rescind the honorary degree it awarded to Cosby in 1996 due to his conviction.

Before his conviction in a Pennsylvania court on Thursday on charges he sexually assaulted Andrea Constand, at least 15 schools had withdrawn honors from Cosby, as dozens of women went public with accusations of sexual assault, some of them dating to the 1960s.

Cosby remains out of jail on $1 million bail pending sentencing.

The judge has confined Cosby to his home in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, and he must wear a GPS monitor, according to an order issued on Friday. He may only travel within a five-county area for medical treatment or legal consultation.

Cosby was a Temple trustee when he first met Constand, who was an administrator of the Temple women’s basketball team. He was convicted of drugging and sexually assaulting her in 2004 at his nearby home.

The University of Massachusetts, where he earned a doctorate in education, cut ties in 2014 with Cosby, a onetime high school dropout.

A question mark also hovers over the presence of the actor-comedian at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. Before his conviction, the museum had grappled with how best to highlight Cosby’s impact on the culture while acknowledging the accusations against him.

The museum said on Friday at least two Cosby-related items will remain on display: a comic book from the 1960s Cosby series “I Spy” and a cover from Cosby’s 1964 comedy album “I Started Out as a Child.”

Museum director Lonnie Bunch and curators will review and possibly change the display’s label, which now reads: “In recent years, revelations about alleged sexual misconduct have cast a shadow over Cosby’s entertainment career and severely damaged his reputation.”

The museum, which opened in 2016, had initially decided against explaining Cosby’s legal problems in the exhibits but reversed course before its public opening and mentioned the allegations of sexual assault in the display material.

“This is not an exhibition that ‘honors or celebrates’ Bill Cosby but one that acknowledges his role, among many others, in American entertainment,” Lonnie Bunch, the museum’s founding director, said in 2016.

“The Cosby Show,” the sitcom that cemented Cosby’s standing as one of the country’s best-loved stars, already has become harder to find. After the guilty verdict, the Bounce television channel said it would pull reruns of the show from its schedules, Deadline Hollywood reported.