Penn, Are You Serious About Not Revoking Bill Cosby’s Honorary Degree?
Deeply troubling, indeed. Although the numbers weren’t unique to Penn — results were “deeply troubling” across the board — that didn’t make them any easier to take in.
A staggering 27 percent of undergraduate women who responded to the survey reported that they had been sexually assaulted at Penn. A full two-thirds reported that they were subject to sexual harassment. Less than half said they thought it was “very or extremely likely” that Penn would take a report of sexual assault seriously, and only about a third were confident that the university would conduct a fair investigation.
To summarize: Women at Penn are being sexually assaulted in alarming numbers, and they don’t trust Penn to do anything about it.
Is now a good time to mention that Bill Cosby still holds an honorary degree from the University of Pennsylvania? Because he does. Although a number of institutions have revoked Cosby’s honors after more than 50 women have accused him of sexual assault, Penn declined to do so on Friday.
“While the allegations against Mr. Cosby are deeply troubling, it is not our practice to rescind honorary degrees,” vice president for university communications Steve MacCarthy said in a statement.
First, Jesus Christ, Steve — you guys really need a new way to describe large-scale sexual assault over there. The flashing “check engine” light on my car is “deeply troubling.” My rainy-day bangs are “deeply troubling.” I believe the phrase you’re looking for is “a fucking travesty.” I would also accept “a goddamn disgrace of epic proportions.” If you wanted to just go crawl inside a filing cabinet and whimper for a bit, that would be fine as well.
Secondly: Are you kidding me?
Because the University of Pennsylvania can’t hide behind this “not our policy” excuse. As the Daily Pennsylvanian points out, Penn has, in fact, previously revoked honorary degrees — German Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm II and ambassador Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff had to hand theirs over in 1918 when things got awkward during WWI.
And even if it was Penn’s policy, I’m not impressed. Honorary degrees are fake awards designed to attract high-profile graduation speakers and celebrity-sized donations. Bestowing one is an endorsement of someone’s character, not his academic achievements. Whip up a fake amendment to your fake policy on fake degrees, Penn — it’s not as if the NFL Players Association is going to get in your way.
As it stands, there can only be two reasons why Penn refuses to follow the lead of universities such as Brown and Fordham and rescind Cosby’s degree:
- They don’t believe the 50-plus women who have come forward with sexual assault allegations against Cosby, one of whom was 15 years old at the time of the alleged assault.
- They don’t care about the 50-plus women who have come forward with sexual assault allegations against Cosby, one of whom was 15 years old at the time of the alleged assault.
A cynic could look at the Association of American Universities’ survey and say that either scenario is likely at an institution where only a third of women expect a fair investigation into a sexual assault allegation.
Personally, I don’t think this is the case. I went to Penn, and I know that the campus is crawling with scary-smart people who understand that women have a right to be treated like human beings. When Amy Gutmann outlined ambitious new policies for complaints against sexual violence in January, I believed her when she stated, “ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our students is among our highest priorities.”
I’m not sure what it will take for Penn to do the right thing and revoke Cosby’s honorary degree. Maybe another 50 women will have to come forward. Maybe they’ll have to participate in a survey and present their pain and degradation to the administration in tidy little pie charts. Whatever in the case, I believe in Penn, and I believe it’s only a matter of time before Cosby and I no longer share an alma mater.
Until then, I suppose I’ll remain “deeply troubled.”
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