This story has been updated to reflect the print version published on Feb. 5.
The University of Pennsylvania on Thursday joined the list of schools that have revoked honorary doctorates granted to the disgraced comedian Bill Cosby, who has been accused of sexual assault by more than 50 women.
But despite Penn’s decision, Yale has no plans to rescind the honorary degree it presented to Cosby in 2003, according to University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews.
“Yale has never rescinded an honorary degree,” Goff-Crews told the News on Friday. “Any change to this longstanding practice would have to be taken up by the board of trustees, which is the body that confers degrees, and it is not under active discussion.”
Still, students at Yale have been calling on the University to rescind Cosby’s degree for years.
As the allegations against Cosby made national headlines, 198 students signed an online petition in December 2014 calling for Salovey to rescind Cosby’s honorary doctorate of humane letters. At the time, Salovey said the arguments in the petition warranted serious consideration — but noted that many would consider it inappropriate to rescind a degree based solely on accusations of misconduct. Salovey referred questions for this story to Goff-Crews.
On Thursday, Penn announced that it would rescind honorary degrees it has given to Cosby and casino mogul Steve Wynn, who last month was accused of sexual misconduct by dozens of women. The announcement marked the first time the school has rescinded an honorary degree in more than a century. Penn also announced it would remove Wynn’s name from a scholarship fund and a university building.
Like Yale, Penn had long invoked institutional policies when defending its decision not to rescind Cosby’s degree. But the decision to revoke Wynn’s honorary degree led Penn’s leadership to reconsider that position, according to a statement sent to Penn students, faculty members, staff and alumni on Thursday.
“The nature, severity and extent of these allegations, and the patterns of abusive behavior they describe, involve acts and conduct that are inimical to the core values of our University,” said the statement from Chair of Penn’s Board of Trustees David L. Cohen and University President Amy Gutmann, referring to the accusations against Wynn.
Penn is not the only university to have rescinded a degree presented to Cosby, who has received nearly 60 such honors. In June 2016, the board of trustees at the University of Connecticut unanimously voted to revoke Cosby’s degree, even as Yale maintained that it would not do the same.
In light of national scrutiny around cases of sexual misconduct and the emergence of the #MeToo movement, students interviewed by the News said the University administration should take heed of Penn’s decision to break with precedent and rescind Cosby’s degree.
“It’s a difficult decision that should be made by listening to what students have to say,” said Amy Min NUR ’19. “Also, the fact that Penn hasn’t taken away an honorary degree in a century says a lot about their decision.”
Brian Earp GRD ’22 argued that continuing to recognize Cosby as an exemplar of excellence despite his reprehensible behavior is incompatible with the University’s selection criteria for honorees.
But he agreed with other students who suggested that the University should wait to take action to ensure the strongest possible grounds for revoking the degree.
“Continuing with the logic from 2014, until a decision is handed down from a judge, the University shouldn’t have to do anything about the degree until he’s formally sentenced,” said Bailey Owen ’21.
In December 2015, Bill Cosby was arraigned on three charges of felony aggravated indecent assault, but his case ended in a mistrial in June 2017. His retrial is scheduled for April.
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