USF Rescinds Honorary Degree Awarded to Bill Cosby

 Joseph Marshall, Jr., co-founder of Omega Boys Club and Emeritus Trustee, former USF President the Reverend Stephen Privett, and comedian Bill Cosby are pictured during Cosby’s visit in 2012. COURTESY OF SHAWN CALHOUN / FLICKR
Joseph Marshall, Jr., co-founder of Omega Boys Club and Emeritus Trustee, former USF President the Reverend Stephen Privett, and comedian Bill Cosby are pictured during Cosby’s visit in 2012. COURTESY OF SHAWN CALHOUN / FLICKR

Nureen Khadr
Staff Writer

Last Wednesday, USF President the Reverend Paul Fitzgerald sent an e-mail to the USF community announcing that the Board of Trustees unanimously decided to rescind the honorary degree granted to award-winning comedian Bill Cosby in May 2012. This vote came, because the board decided that the recent slew of sexual assault allegations against Cosby no longer merited him the award.

In the e-mail Fitzgerald wrote, “By his own statements in a court deposition made public in July, Mr. Cosby acknowledges behavior that is inconsistent with the University of San Francisco’s criteria for a USF honorary degree.”

According to CNN, “Cosby said he had seven prescriptions for Quaaludes during the ’70s for a bad back and intended to give them to women he socialized with.” Cosby made this and other damaging admissions in the 2005 court deposition that was unsealed by a judge this summer.

Father Fitzgerald says that with this knowledge, USF cannot stand by the Doctor of Humane Letters, because his actions do not align with the mission and values of the university. In his open letter he writes: “As a Jesuit Catholic university, we believe there is a moral dimension to every significant human choice.”

Cosby, who is known for being a pioneering black entertainer, is probably the most famous recipient of a USF honorary degree in recent history.

The press release sent out before the May 2012 commencement said USF was honoring Cosby for “his humor, compassion, and commitment to service during his lifelong work educating and inspiring children and adults.”

The award was given before extensive attention was brought to previous allegations against Cosby. The first public accusation against Cosby goes back more than a decade. The first alleged assault dates back to 1965.

Bill Cosby’s fall from grace is a result of the continual stream of women coming forward with stories of drugged sexual assault at the hands of the entertainer, since comedian Hannibal Buress brought the issue back to the spotlight in a stand-up show in Philadelphia in Oct. 2014. On Sept. 30, 2015, the day USF informed the community of the withdrawal of his honorary degree, another three women accused Cosby of sexual misconduct. They join the 51 women, as of Aug. 2015, who share similar disturbing stories.

The Office of the President has also informed Cosby and his lawyers of the board’s united decision, citing the same reasons made public in the letter to faculty and students. This is the first time that USF has pulled a degree from an honoree. But last week, USF joined Brown University, Fordham University and Marquette University in rescinding degrees granted to the disgraced icon.

Last December, responding to blogger Michael Petrelis’ questions as to why the University had not taken back the honorary degree, Anne-Marie Devine Tasto, USF spokesperson, said, “The University of San Francisco is allowing the facts to be established by a court of law before making any decisions regarding Mr. Cosby’s honorary degree.” While there are still no court proceedings against Cosby, his self-incriminating admission in the 2005 deposition transcript released in July 2015, appears to have been enough. Yet it has been noted by many that schools including Temple University, the Berklee School of Music, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst distanced themselves from the comedian soon after the accusations began surfacing in Oct. 2014. Around that time, Cosby also lost production deals with Netflix and NBC.

USF students have long been rallying on social media for the University to repeal his degree and simultaneously take a stance against sexual assault. USF alumnus Matt Miller ‘15 has been vocal about this matter on Facebook. Hearing of the decision to retract the degree, Miller said, “While I’m curious as to why previous quarterly meetings haven’t resolved this issue sooner, I am proud of the message this decision sends, particularly to those who identify as survivors of sexual assault.”

Fitzgerald said that the reason the Board of Trustees took this long to come to a decision regarding Cosby is due to the fact that the board meets only four times a year. When the judge released the 2005 deposition transcript in July 2015, the Board of Trustees had to wait until their next scheduled meeting, in September, to vote on the issue.

According to the Office of the President, there has been no response from Cosby or his lawyers since he was notified of the board’s vote to strip him of the honorary degree.

Photo courtesy of Chris Witte/Flickr

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