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Brown revokes Bill Cosby's honorary degree

Degree rescinded after sexual assault allegations against Cosby by 35 women

Updated Sept. 30 at 3:40 p.m.

The University has revoked Bill Cosby’s honorary degree, President Christina Paxson P’19 wrote in a community-wide email Monday night. He was awarded the degree in 1985.

The Corporation’s Board of Fellows decided to revoke the degree following sexual assault allegations against Cosby by 35 women.

Fordham University and Marquette University rescinded Cosby’s honorary degrees Thursday, which he received in 2001 and 2013, respectively. New York University removed Cosby’s name from its Future Filmmakers Workshop Sept. 1.

This marks the second time the University has revoked an honorary degree "to the best that we can determine from available records and documents," wrote Vice President for Communications Cass Cliatt in an email to The Herald. In 1918, the Board of Fellows revoked the honorary degree of Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff, German ambassador to the United States, because "he was guilty of conduct dishonorable alike in a gentleman and a diplomat," according to Encyclopedia Brunoniana.

“It has become clear, by his own admission in legal depositions that became public this summer, that Mr. Cosby has engaged in conduct with women that is contrary to the values of Brown and the qualities for which he was honored by the University in 1985,” Paxson wrote in the email.

“The conduct that Mr. Cosby has acknowledged is wholly inconsistent with the behavior we expect of any individual associated with Brown,” she wrote. “It is particularly troubling as our university community continues to confront the very real challenges of sexual violence on our campus and in society at large, and had it been known to the Fellows in 1985, an honorary degree … would not have been conferred.”

David Ray '84 P'15 P'18 launched an online petition Sept. 20 to rescind Cosby’s degree. As of press time, the petition had garnered 71 signatures. “Given multiple charges of sexual misconduct by Bill Cosby and Brown's renewed attention on sexual harassment and sexual assault policy, we urge Brown University to rescind its 1985 Honorary Degree to Bill Cosby. This follows similar actions by Fordham and Marquette,” the petition reads.

The petition was meant “to send a message to the Corporation that sexual assault will not be tolerated at Brown University by anyone in the community,” Ray said. It also sent a "strong public signal to the university that has supported the Sexual Assault Task Force," he said.

"The Board of Fellows was unaware of any petition when making its decision," Cliatt wrote.

The Board of Fellows only meets three times every semester, Cliatt wrote. "This month’s meeting was the first meeting since information became public over the summer — beginning in July — relating to the depositions that were a factor in the Board of Fellows’ decision."

Though rumors of sexual assault had circulated for years, media coverage of the issue intensified in November 2014, as Cosby refused to answer questions about the sexual assault allegations during an NPR interview and canceled an appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman later that week, the New York Times reported.

On Dec. 2, 2014, Cosby resigned his post as a trustee at Temple University — a position he had held since 1982.

Seven months later, court documents were released in which Cosby stated he obtained quaaludes in the 1970s to give to women he wanted to have sex with. The records released July 7 were from a 2005 case in which Andrea Constand accused Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting her.

Cosby was one of 10 honorary degree recipients in 1985, according to the University's honorary degree index.


— Additional reporting by Gabriella Reyes


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