Will Philly-Area Schools Rescind Bill Cosby’s Honorary Degrees?
Last week, Lehigh University rescinded an honorary degree it had given to Bill Cosby in 1987. It decided to nix the honor because of the overwhelming number of women who have accused Cosby of sexual assault. (Cosby has never been criminally charged — though he currently faces several civil lawsuits —and has denied the accusations.)
“Pursuant to a resolution of the Board of Trustees, Lehigh University has rescinded the honorary degree bestowed upon William H. Cosby, Jr. by the University in 1987,” the University said in a statement. “In sworn deposition testimony, Mr. Cosby admitted under oath to behavior that is antithetical to the values of Lehigh University and inconsistent with the character and high standards that honorary degree recipients are expected to exemplify.”
Lehigh is not the only local university to have awarded Cosby an honorary degree. Seven other schools in the Philadelphia area — Delaware State, Drexel, Haverford, Swarthmore, Temple, Penn and West Chester — have awarded Cosby honorary diplomas. Philadelphia magazine reached out to all seven schools to ask if they were considering stripping him of his honorary diplomas. Here’s what we found out.
Delaware State University
Bill Cosby gave the commencement address at the school in 2001, and received an honorary doctorate. Per Delaware State spokesperson Carlos Holmes, the issue has not been discussed — but many Board of Trustees members didn’t even know of the honor until recently.
“The issue of Bill Cosby’s 2001 honorary doctorate he received from Delaware State University has not been an agenda item of any of our four Board of Trustees meetings that have been held this year, and as such have not been discussed by the board publicly,” Holmes writes in an email. “I should note that there are relatively few people currently at DSU there were a part of the University in 2001. Most, if not all, of the current DSU leadership didn’t even know that a honorary doctorate had been awarded to him at DSU until it became a media subject over the last few weeks.”
Bill Cosby picked up his honorary degree from Drexel in the fall of 1992, when he was the school’s convocation speaker.
“Teaching has to take on a new banner, and if you’re going to enter, you have to have many new hats,” Cosby told 2,500 Drexel students, per the Associated Press. “You’re going to run into counselors who don’t know how to counsel, so you have to. You’re going to run into parents who don’t know how to parent, so you’re going to have to parent.”
Per Drexel, Cosby wore a Drexel sweatshirt throughout his address, one that kicked off the 1992-1993 academic year. Cosby received an honorary Doctor of Pedagogy from the school.
Drexel did not respond to requests from Philadelphia magazine for comment.
Haverford is the only local college that said on the record it was in talks about rescinding his honorary degree. According to a school spokesperson, it seems the school is actually also evaluating the whole notion of giving out honorary degrees.
“We have never rescinded an honorary degree,” Haverford spokesman Chris Mills said. “Haverford’s Board of Managers is considering input from students, faculty, staff, alumni and Board representatives about the full range of issues attendant to this situation, beginning with the process itself: How and why are degrees awarded, and how and why could they, or should they, be rescinded?”
Bill Cosby was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Swarthmore in 1995, alongside 1937 Swarthmore alums Barbara Weiss Cartwright and Dorwin P. Cartwright, and 1967 grad Heidi I. Hartmann.
He had spoken at the school few years earlier, in 1992. “I have a feeling many of you want to make a change in the world,” he told students, per an Inquirer report at the time. “I hear it at graduation: ‘You are the youth and the greatest, and you will go far.’ And it isn’t true, because all you have is education. You know books, but you have not touched the opponent. You haven’t gone into the workplace and known competition.” Per the Inquirer, Cosby proposed the visit to Swarthmore himself.
Like Haverford, a Swarthmore student questioned the school’s recognition of Cosby in the Swarthmore Phoenix earlier this year.
Swarthmore did not respond to requests from Philadelphia magazine for comment.
No university is as connected to Bill Cosby as Temple is. Until his recent resignation, he was on the Board of Trustees. He remained on the Board of Trustees for more than a decade despite being sued by Andrea Constand, who was director of operations for Temple’s women’s basketball at the time of the alleged assault.
A columnist with the Orlando Sentinel noted Temple’s continued recognition of Cosby — he’s in Temple’s Hall of Fame — stains Temple’s reputation. (That columnist said it would help UCF win the game for some reason; the Owls won, 30-16.)
One of Cosby’s lawyers, Patrick O’Connor, is also chairman of the Board of Trustees at Temple. Remarking on that, a student at a recent protest addressed president Neil Theobald harshly: “Sexual violence is institutionally sanctioned at Temple University.”
Cosby resigned from the Board of Trustees last December. There has been no action on Cosby’s honorary Temple degree. There have not even been talks about it. “There have not been discussions related to his honorary degree,” Temple spokesperson Hillel Hoffman wrote in an email.
University of Pennsylvania
Bill Cosby was a fixture at Franklin Field for years. He filmed the Penn Relays episode of The Cosby Show at Franklin Field in 1986, and was an honorary starter at the Relays for many years. He even performed a comedy show after a Temple/Penn game at the Palestra in 2013.
Penn awarded Cosby an honorary Doctor of Laws in 1990. Last year, the Penn athletic department told The Daily Pennsylvanian Cosby had “no official relationship between Penn Athletics and Mr. Cosby.”
That’s true. But if the school is looking to revoke his honorary diploma, it isn’t saying. “At this time, we have nothing to offer,” Penn media relations director Ron Oizo emailed.
West Chester University
West Chester awarded Cosby an honorary degree in 2003. School officials have considered the ramifications of that honor in light of the sexual assault allegations. “There has been some discussion, but that’s it,” West Chester spokesperson Pamela Sheridan wrote in an email.
Per a 2003 Inquirer report, Yankees great Yogi Berra attended Cosby’s commencement speech at the school in 2003. Berra’s grandson graduated from West Chester that year. Cosby was at West Chester University as recently as 2007, according to the school’s Flickr stream.