Recently a bevy of universities have announced their decisions to revoke the honorary degrees they once bestowed on Bill Cosby. Fordham, Spelman, and Brown are just three of the institutions that have ended their association with the comedian, implying their condemnation of rape and sexual assault. But Cosby still retains over 40 degrees from schools that are grappling with the decision to rescind—and others that have no plans to do so.
Vulture approached these schools and gathered comments from 37 different institutions. In the process, “two schools—Amherst College and Springfield College—announced their decisions to revoke [Cosby’s] honorary degrees.” Others, like Colgate University, report, via their university spokesperson, “Yes, the notion of revoking Bill Cosby’s honorary degree is under discussion, and I expect there to be a decision to share soon.”
Haverford College’s response indicates perplexity—or, more properly, intellectual deflection—and actually reads like a prompt for a pretty boring essay. Their spokesperson to Vulture:
“We have never rescinded an honorary degree. Haverford’s Board of Managers is considering input from students, faculty, staff, and alumni about the full range of issues attendant to this situation, beginning with the process itself: How and why are degrees awarded, and how and why could they, or should they, be rescinded?”
Most schools, however, have been far more cagey. Johns Hopkins tells Vulture that “at this point, we do not have anything to say.” Drexel University, Swarthmore, Colby College, and a number of others have made similar remarks.
And yet some institutions—including my alma mater, the College of William and Mary—regrettably do not intend to consider the possibility of revocation. Temple University reports that “there has been no conversation about making a change.” William and Mary’s spokesperson says to Vulture the following:
“William and Mary bestows honorary degrees based on information known at the time when they are conferred, and these awards do not constitute a standing endorsement of an individual’s moral character. William and Mary has never rescinded an honorary degree.”
Maybe Haverford really has raised a critical question. But, as Vulture points out, “honorary degrees [are] practically worthless” yet always awarded for a reason. They do “represent a public association between the conferring university and the recipient.” It seems reasonable that a school should think about this association, and when it is their responsibility to detach their name from someone who has caused tremendous and indelible harm.
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