The Cosby Scandal and Higher Education

Over the past three to four decades, Bill Cosby has received honorary degrees from the following 23 institutions that, to date, have not rescinded the degrees:

Baylor University

Bennett College

Boston University

Carnegie Mellon

Colgate University

Drew University

Fordham University

Haverford College

Marquette University

Oberlin College

Paine College

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Sisseton Wahpeton College

Swarthmore College

University of Cincinnati

University of Connecticut

University of Pennsylvania

University of Southern California

Virginia Commonwealth University

Wesleyan University

West Chester University

William & Mary

Yale University

As Asawin Suebsaeng reports in an article published on July 31 by the Daily Beast, some institutions have policies against rescinding honorary degrees or that make it very difficult to rescind those degrees; others have never previously confronted the issue and therefore have no clear policies defining how such an action might be taken.

Since honorary degrees are generally the equivalent of lifetime-achievement awards, it would seem relatively rare that a recipient, especially one in an arena other than politics, would suddenly be tainted by major scandal late in his or her life.

Putting aside the issue of whether honorary degrees ought to be rescinded under any circumstances—or whether there is any value in awarding them to begin with—several colleges and universities have severed other associations with Cosby.

Most notably, although Spelman College received a $20 million gift from Cosby and his wife in the 1980s, the College has removed his name from a chaired professorship. Berklee College of Music, High Point University, Temple University, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, all of which have also received sizable gifts from the Cosbys, have similarly announced that they have terminated their associations with him.

Asawin Suebsaeng’s complete article is available at: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/07/31/will-these-22-colleges-ever-punish-bill-cosby.html

 

 

3 thoughts on “The Cosby Scandal and Higher Education

  1. It would hardly be a surprise if Cosby were not the only individual who got an honorary degree or had something named in exchange for a donation (or bought an honorary degree with a donation) that later proved an embarrassment, although I must say the rate at which Cosby accumulated such degrees seems remarkably unusual. It’s way down the list of my priorities, but I guess that if we looked into the workings of the national honorary degree mill we might find some pretty sleazy stuff, and hardly just about Cosby.

  2. Regarding the national honorary degree mill, I recommend the report of Committee J on the Distinction between the Several Honorary Degrees and the Basis for Conferring Them from 1917 (http://www.jstor.org/stable/40216853). It noted that in the US, “no less than 85 per cent of the total [honorary degrees] is contributed by public men, administrators, ecclesiastics, physicians and surgeons; scholars and investigators form but 8.06 per cent. Seeing that this degree is generally esteemed the highest academic honor, these figures indicate some lurking defect in methods of selection”.

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