37 Universities on the Status of Bill Cosby’s Honorary Degrees

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Photo-Illustration: Vulture

Bill Cosby has been the recipient of nearly 60 honorary degrees — everything from fine arts, music, education, and law — since his ascent into the world of comedy and acting in the 1960s. They are, like all honorary degrees, practically worthless. Even so, they do represent a public association between the conferring university and the recipient, one that in this case has become highly undesirable after the revelations of nearly 60 women who have publicly accused Cosby of sexual assault and rape. Some of the universities — including Fordham, Marquette, Spelman, Tufts, and Brown — have already severed ties with Cosby. Many of the rest find themselves in uncharted waters, wondering how and if to proceed.

Curious to learn more about how they view those honorary degrees (or if they're even aware they gave Cosby one), Vulture reached out to more than 40 of the remaining universities. Of them, 37 agreed to comment for this piece, while two schools — Amherst College and Springfield College — announced their decisions to revoke his honorary degrees while this piece was in production. Many of the rest share a certain befuddlement over how to address a terrible situation for which they had no game plan. Unless otherwise specified, all responses are from official university spokespeople. (Comments have been edited for clarity and grammar.)

Berklee College of Music
“In 2014, the college removed Bill Cosby's name from an online scholarship awarded annually for online study. We are actively engaged in internal discussion to determine our course of action in regard to the honorary degree presented to Bill Cosby in 2004.”

Boston College
“Bill Cosby was awarded an honorary degree from Boston College in 1996 in recognition of his role as an actor and humorist and his work on behalf of education. While the recent allegations against him are reprehensible, as a matter of policy, Boston College does not rescind honorary degrees.”

Boston University
“We’re still monitoring legal developments in the cases.”

Carnegie Mellon University
“Carnegie Mellon is having internal discussions regarding Bill Cosby’s honorary degree. The university has not made a decision at this time. We have no further comment.”

Colby College
“We have no comment at this time.”

Colgate University
“Yes, the notion of revoking Bill Cosby’s honorary degree is under discussion, and I expect there to be a decision to share soon.”

Cooper Union
“We have no comment at this time.”

Delaware State University
“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 has not been discussed by the board publicly. I should note that there are relatively few people currently at DSU that were a part of the university in 2001. Most, if not all, of the current DSU leadership didn’t even know that an honorary doctorate had been awarded to him at DSU until it became a media subject over the last few weeks.”

Drew University*
“Drew will examine the Cosby honorary degree (granted in 2001) soon, and a decision will be made and shared in the next few weeks.”

Drexel University*
“We have not taken any action at this time.”

Fashion Institute of Technology
“Bill Cosby received an honorary degree at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s commencement exercises in 2000. As a college of the State University of New York (SUNY), FIT submits honorary degree nominations to SUNY, which then reviews, approves, and confers the degree. In light of current events, FIT will review the decision to award the honorary degree to Mr. Cosby. Any recommendation to change the status of the award would be submitted to the State University of New York for its consideration. In any event, we do not comment on ongoing internal discussions.”

George Washington University

“While we are shocked and disturbed by the allegations against Mr. Cosby, honorary degrees are conferred at a moment in time, based on what the university knows about the honoree at that time. It has never been the university’s practice to rescind an honorary degree.”

Haverford College
“We have never rescinded an honorary degree. Haverford's Board of Managers is considering input from students, faculty, staff, and alumni 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?”

John Jay College of Criminal Justice (From President Jeremy Travis)
“It’s being recommended to me, and then ultimately to the board that [the degree] be rescinded. The conversations started between me and the leadership of the faculty senate at the beginning of the academic year, so that means late August, something like that. The faculty senate put it on their agenda for discussion through their governance process on October 14. They voted overwhelmingly, 47 affirmative and 1 negative and no extensions, so that’s a pretty powerful vote for a resolution, recommending that the degree be rescinded. That has been forwarded to me, and I have forwarded it to the chancellor of the university with endorsing their recommendation wholeheartedly that the honorary degree be rescinded. Then the process goes to the Board of Trustees of the university, which authorized John Jay — this is before my time — but authorized John Jay to award the degree, and we’re now recommending that the degree be rescinded in light of what we now know about Mr. Cosby’s actions.”

Johns Hopkins University
“At this point, we do not have anything to say.”

New York University
“NYU views the reports of Mr. Cosby's conduct with the utmost concern and seriousness. We expect this matter to be taken up at the next meeting of the board, but until then any comment would be premature.”

North Carolina A&T State University
“North Carolina A&T State University grants honorary degrees following a vetting process based on a person’s contributions and merit that we know of at the time. We have been in conversations regarding the awarding of Bill Cosby’s honorary degree, and a decision will also go through a similar vetting process.”

Oberlin College
“The matter is under consideration.”

Ohio State University
“Like many of our peer institutions, Ohio State is very concerned by the reports regarding Bill Cosby, and the honorary degree he received in 2001 is under review.”

Old Dominion University
“The Board of Visitors (BOV), the governing body for Old Dominion University, awards honorary degrees. Any decision on rescinding Bill Cosby's honorary degree would need to be approved by the BOV during one of their scheduled meetings. The next BOV meeting will take place in December.”

Pepperdine University
“Pepperdine has no provision to rescind honorary degrees, and we do not plan to create a new policy for Mr. Cosby. The university is deeply troubled by the recent allegations which have come to light. We have not had any contact with Mr. Cosby since 1998, and we do not anticipate reestablishing a relationship with him in the future.”

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
"We have no plans to rescind Mr. Cosby’s honorary degree at this time.”

Rust College
“At the present time, we have no plans to make any changes to Dr. Cosby’s honorary degree.”

Sisseton Wahpeton College (from President Harvey DuMarce)
“We are a small American Indian tribal college way out in South Dakota. A majority of our students are tribal members. Their age range varies between nontraditional- and traditional-age students. However, a majority of our students are female, single parents of at least two children. I am not a spokesman for the students; they can speak for themselves. At this time, Bill Cosby’s honorary degree with the Sisseton Wahpeton College has not been rescinded. While his alleged sexual improprieties are in the national headlines and we see those same headlines, too, his predicament, real or not, is not of any interest to our people way out here in South Dakota. Bill Cosby is a national figure that was once seen on television in the 1980s, but he is not of importance in our lives. Our younger students will likely say, ‘Who is Bill Cosby?’ He may be a big fish in the larger mainstream American society for public consumption, but out here he is of no consequence because he does not touch the lives of people out here. At the same time, many of our students will probably believe all those stories about him because they are being discussed and reported in the media. Our Board of Trustees will have to initiate formal action to rescind his honorary degree, but thus far they have expressed no opinion on his alleged crimes. If necessary, I can submit a formal request to them at the November 2015 regular board meeting.”

Swarthmore College
“The college has not taken any action to date.”

Talladega College
“At this time we have no additional comments to the statement we gave and which was published by the New York Times [which were 'We give out honorary degrees based on what we know at the time and at the time he was everybody’s favorite dad']."

Temple University
“There has been no conversation about making a change.”

The College of William & Mary
“William & Mary bestows honorary degrees based on information known at the time when they are conferred, and these awards do not constitute a standing endorsement of an individual’s moral character. William & Mary has never rescinded an honorary degree.”

University of Cincinnati
“I have no information for you at this time. Events involving our campus this summer continue to be the current focus of our efforts and attention at this time.”

University of Connecticut
“We’re having thoughtful discussions at UConn about the issue, but no decisions have been made so far.”

University of Notre Dame
“As it does with all candidates for honorary degrees, Notre Dame weighed carefully the information in the public record on Bill Cosby before he was accorded the honor 25 years ago. Had the kind of deeply disturbing allegations surfaced then that have been made since, Notre Dame wouldn’t have considered awarding the degree. However, it is not the practice of the university to rescind an honorary degree previously awarded to individuals for achievements recognized at those times and, in the absence of criteria applicable retroactively to all, we have no plans to do so now in his case alone. However, the question spotlights the insidiousness of sexual assault and the pervasive silence that has often allowed offenders to escape responsibility, and we recommit ourselves to doing all we can to prevent sexual assault. We encourage and support our students and others to report sexual assault and remind them that a person incapacitated — whether by alcohol, drugs, or otherwise — is incapable of giving consent to sexual activity.”

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
“The university has been in the process of considering whether to rescind the degree for several weeks.”

University of Pennsylvania
“I’m afraid I have nothing new to report. Sorry.”

University of Pittsburgh*
“The university committee that reviews and recommends candidates for honorary degrees will be reviewing the honorary doctor of humane letters degree awarded to Bill Cosby. The degree was originally awarded to Mr. Cosby in 2002 at the commencement ceremony on our Johnstown campus. The committee will meet sometime this semester and make a recommendation to the administration. A date for the meeting has not been set, but a decision on the matter will be made before the end of the current semester.”

Virginia Commonwealth University
“Bill Cosby received an honorary degree from VCU in 2008 based on what was known at the time of his professional accomplishments. Because VCU honorary degrees carry no special rights or privileges there is no precedent or policy for revoking them. The behavior detailed in the allegations against Cosby is despicable and anathema to VCU's values as an institution. VCU has taken definitive actions and made significant investments in student and employee education, counselors, investigators, police, and safety programs to protect and support our community against sexual violence. There is no tolerance for sexual violence at VCU.”

Wesleyan University
“Wesleyan’s position on rescinding honorary degrees has not changed.”

Yale University
“The university has never rescinded an honorary degree and has not rescinded his.”

We also reached out to Bryant University, Hampton University, Howard University, University of South Carolina, University of Southern California, and West Chester University, but received no response. Paine College and University of Maryland responded that they have no comment.

* Update: Drexel rescinded Cosby's honorary degree on November 12.

* Update: Pittsburgh rescinded Cosby's honorary degree on November 13.

* Update: Drew rescinded Cosby's honorary degree on November 16.