Citing ‘no precedent’, VCU stands behind Bill Cosby’s honorary degree

When Bill Cosby spoke during VCU’s 40th anniversary celebration in 2008, he made an explicit distinction between what should — and should not — happen on college campuses.

“This is a place of education, believe or not,” Cosby said. “It’s not a place to come and get drunk, pass out, take pills and give each other diseases.”

Ironic words, given Cosby is now accused of sexual misconduct and assault by more than 50 women dating back to the 1960s. The accusations, along with a recently-released deposition in which Cosby admits to obtaining drugs to secretly give women, have directly led to many universities revoking his honorary degrees.

But even as the list of high-profile universities rescinding Cosby’s degrees grows, VCU has yet to do so, and has given no indication of doing so in the future.

Honorary degrees are largely symbolic, usually awarded for recognition for a public service of some kind. Many institutions award them, and most have no policy or procedures in place for revocation.

Even so, within days of one another in September, Brown University, Marquette and Fordham announced rescissions of Cosby’s honorary degrees.

“The conduct that Mr. Cosby has acknowledged is wholly inconsistent with the behavior we expect of any individual associated with Brown,” said the university in a statement stemming directly from the office of the president.   

Cosby has yet to be criminally charged with any crime for sexual misconduct, however.

In all, Cosby has received more than 40 honorary degrees from universities and colleges across the country, though the list of rescissions continues to grow.

In October, Baylor University, Tufts University, Goucher College, Springfield College and Amherst College announced they would revoke Cosby’s degrees. Most recently, over a five-day period in November, three more universities — Drexel, Drew and the University of Pittsburgh — added rescissions of their own.

When reached for comment, Michael Porter, VCU’s interim director of public affairs, issued a statement by email.

“Bill Cosby received an honorary degree from VCU in 2008 based on what was known at the time. We have no precedent for revoking honorary degrees since they carry no special rights or privileges,” Porter said.

Fordham University didn’t have a precedent for revoking honorary degrees, either.  Yet, for the first time in its more than 150-year history, the university created one, while at the same time issuing a strong statement condemning Cosby’s alleged actions and vehemently distancing themselves from the comedian.  

“That Mr. Cosby was willing to drug and rape women for his sexual gratification, and further damage those same women’s reputations and careers to obscure his guilt, hurt not only his victims, but all women, and is beyond the pale,” read Fordham’s statement.

Many VCU students, like junior Mary Sears, think VCU should follow suit.

“If it was up to me, I would absolutely take it away from him,” Sears said. “It’s disgusting and it’s not right.”

Joel Parsons, a senior, agrees with Sears.

“(Cosby) is a walking contradiction who has shown no remorse,” Parsons said.

Other students agree with the university’s decision not to rescind Cosby’s honorary degree.

“He should be able to keep (his honorary degree) because it happened so long ago and they have no proof of what he did,” said junior Ashawnna Sawyer.

Another senior, Taylor Morman, echoed Sawyer’s statement.

“I think he should keep it because they (VCU) were basing it off what he did back in 2008, not what’s going on now,” Morman said.

Article by: Tony Tucker, Contributing Writer

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