Bill Cosby’s Honorary Degrees Rescinded & Sexual Assault Charges Filed

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Feminism, Public
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bill-cosby-mugshot-640x400In May 2013, comedian Bill Cosby received an honorary doctorate of letters from Marquette University. In his address to the students, he told them “to go into the world remembering the values they learned from the school’s Jesuits—respect, integrity and a responsibility to serve others.” In retrospect, it’s ironic advice coming from him.

In the past year, a large number of women have come forward to say that Cosby sexually assaulted them, with incidents going back to the mid-1960s. To date, that number has swelled to more than 50. The stories of the alleged assaults have some general similarities: Cosby offered to mentor the women or coach them with acting; he offered them drinks; the women then felt dizzy or woozy and some may have passed out; some of them describe waking up in various states of undress.

Yesterday, Cosby was charged with aggravated indecent assault, a felony, in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, stemming from an encounter in 2004 with Andrea Constand, then operations director for Temple University women’s basketball team, who believed Cosby was a mentor and a friend. The allegations in the complaint parallel the numerous other allegations. The complaint alleges Cosby gave Constand some pills and told her to sip some wine; Constand felt dizzy and felt she had no sense of time; Cosby then sexually assaulted her. The case was re-opened this summer, prosecutors said, after new evidence emerged. That new evidence was Cosby’s deposition testimony in the civil suit Constand filed against him. In his deposition, Cosby admitted giving women Quaaludes in an effort to have sex with them.

Cosby has claimed any encounters were consensual. As is typical, then, it’ll come down to he said- she said. But, as the recent cover of the New York Daily News aptly pointed out, in Cosby’s case, it’s more like “he said-she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said, she said.”

While the number of women accusing Cosby piled up, Cosby pounced on them, allegedly hiring private investigators to uncover “dirt” on them in order to discredit them. Several of them are suing him for defamation, though Cosby continues to maintain he is the victim; he is suing seven of his accusers for defamation. Even as the number of accusers accumulated, with their remarkably similar stories, many in the general public were slow to believe the women. After all, Cosby had built much of his career around the fatherly figure persona he portrayed on The Cosby Show in the 1980s. The women were hung out to dry. The whole situation reminded me very much of a comic I’ve seen, where no one believes the woman’s complaint of sexual assault, no matter how she tried to raise it. And when she doesn’t say anything, people assume nothing’s happened. Or she would say something. Is it any wonder women hesitate to report sexual assault?

In late September 2015, in its first meeting of the academic year, the Marquette University Board of Trustees voted to rescind Cosby’s honorary degree, effectively immediately. In an email to members of the Marquette community, President Michael Lovell and Provost Daniel Myers said, “By his own admission, Mr. Cosby engaged in behaviors that go entirely against our university’s mission and the Guiding Values we have worked so hard to instill on our campus.” President Lovell and Provost Myers noted campus leaders and faculty overwhelmingly supported the decision. It’s the first time that Marquette has rescinded an honorary degree.

Other universities have cut ties with Cosby. On the same day that Marquette’s Board of Trustees voted to rescind Cosby’s honorary degree, Fordham University’s Board of Trustees voted to do the same. In July Spelman College, a historically black college, discontinued its endowed professorship with Cosby. Other colleges and universities that have since rescinded Cosby’s honorary degrees: Amherst College; Baylor University; Brown University; Bryant University; California State University System; Drew University; Drexel University; Franklin & Marshall College; Goucher College; John Jay College; Muhlenberg College; Springfield College; Swarthmore College; Tufts University; University of Pittsburgh; University of San Francisco; and Wilkes University. A bust of Cosby that had graced Walt Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park was removed in July.

President Lovell later tweeted he was “proud of our trustees and Marquette leadership for taking this important stand. #ItsOnUs.” So am I, President Lovell. So am I.

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One Response to “Bill Cosby’s Honorary Degrees Rescinded & Sexual Assault Charges Filed”

  1. Bill Cosby’s advice to the graduating class of 2013 is much worse than “ironic.” I second your endorsement of the Marquette Board of Trustees’ revocation of Cosby’s honorary degree.

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