On Thursday, Fordham and Marquette Universities announced they would be stripping Bill Cosby of the honorary degrees they had given to him in 2001 and 2013, respectively. This is the first time either Jesuit institution has revoked an honor of this nature. They join the ever-growing ranks of entities and individuals distancing themselves from the comedian who has been publicly accused of sexual assault by more than 50 women.
At Fordham, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to rescind Cosby’s degree, which he had been granted for “the significant role he played in breaking the color barrier in American television and popular culture, and his position as an inspirational figure for millions of African Americans.” The statement from Fordham, sent to all students, goes on to say that “at the time, there was no public awareness of the allegations of rape against him.” (Andrea Constand, the first accuser to come forward, did not make her allegations against Cosby public until 2005.)
A recipient’s actions would have to be both unambiguously dishonorable and have a deep impact. By his own admission, Mr. Cosby’s sexual exploitation of women was premeditated and ongoing. Equally appalling is his longtime strategy of denigrating the reputations of women who accused him of such actions.
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.
Marquette President Michael R. Lovell and Provost Daniel Meyers released a shorter statement, referring to “several weeks” of conversations among “campus leaders and faculty members” who agreed with the Board of Trustees’ decision: “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.”
Why now? Marquette spokesman Brian Dorrington told the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel that Thursday marked the first time the Board of Trustees’ met for this academic year. But Marquette bestowed this honor upon Cosby in 2013, when he was also the featured commencement speaker, well after multiple victims had gone public with accusations that Cosby drugged and raped them.
“I think for us, the situation that came to light over this summer was very different from any information that had come up previously,” Dorrington told ThinkProgress by phone. “Our Board of Trustees looked at that information that came to light this summer, by Bill Cosby’s own admission, and made their decision. The testimony speaks for itself. For us, the information that came to light recently goes against our university’s mission and guiding principles.”
During his address, Cosby told graduates “it is important for you to understand that this, the Jesuits, they teach. They teach respect. They teach integrity. So that no matter what little you have, you always realize there is something that you can give to someone.”
Cosby’s deposition for the Judy Huth case — she alleges Cosby molested her at the Playboy Mansion when she was 15 years old — is set for October 9. A 1990 California law allows for allegations of underage sexual abuse to be made in civil suits as many as decades after the fact. The statute of limitations for a criminal case has run out.
This piece has been updated with a response from Marquette.