Less than a week after the comedian Bill Cosby was convicted of three counts of sexual assault, the Yale Corporation voted on Tuesday to rescind the honorary degree the University awarded Cosby in 2003.
The vote marks the first time in more than three centuries that Yale has rescinded an honorary degree. In an email to the News, University spokesman Tom Conroy said the Corporation’s decision was based on a court record that provided “clear and convincing evidence” that Cosby’s conduct violated Yale’s standards of decency.
“Yale is committed to both the elimination of sexual misconduct and the adherence to due process,” Conroy said. “We reaffirm that commitment with our action today.”
A Cosby spokesperson did not respond to request for comment Tuesday evening.
In an email to the News last Thursday evening — hours after the verdict in Cosby’s case was handed down — Conroy said the Corporation would review the University’s longstanding practice of not revoking honorary degrees. On Tuesday, five days after the conviction, Yale joined Wesleyan, Boston College and several other colleges and universities that have rescinded honorary degrees awarded to Cosby in the wake of the jury’s verdict.
On Friday, Cosby’s own alma mater, Temple University, announced it would rescind the honorary doctorate it bestowed on him in 1991.
Student began calling for Yale to rescind the degree in 2014, with a petition that garnered 198 signatures, as dozens of sexual assault allegations against Cosby become public. Over the years, as more than 50 women accused Cosby of sexual assault, Brown, the University of Pennsylvania and at least 20 other schools revoked honorary degrees they had awarded to the comedian. But until last week, Yale maintained that it had no plans to review its policy of not revoking honorary degrees.
Last month, 30 alumni penned a letter to the University, arguing that Yale should apply the same guiding principles that resulted in the renaming of Calhoun College to its honorary degrees. The petition also called for Yale to revoke the degree it gave to the Swiss entrepreneur Stephan Schmidheiny, who faces a manslaughter trial in connection with the deaths of 258 workers at asbestos cement plants in Italy.
Given that the University bylines do not outline a process for rescinding honorary degrees, the Corporation has elected to consider revoking such degrees on a case-by-case basis moving forward, according to Yale Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor.
But despite the allegations against Schmidheiny, the Corporation is unlikely to rescind his degree anytime soon. O’Connor said the trustees are not considering whether to rescind any other honorary degrees at the moment.
Over the course of his career, Cosby was awarded a total of 57 honorary degrees.
Hailey Fuchs | firstname.lastname@example.org