For over a year now, Bill Cosby has been the subject of numerous accusations of sexual misconduct. As of today, over 50 women have come forward alleging that Cosby either raped or sexually assaulted them.
Some women claimed they were assaulted by Cosby while they were teenagers. Others said they were assaulted as adults. Several of the women are models. One is a journalist. Another is a director of Temple University’s women’s basketball team. One woman claimed that Cosby is the father of her child.
Women have been accusing the once-beloved comedian of sexual misconduct since 2000. On Friday, two more women came forward against Cosby. One of those women alleged that she was sexually assaulted on our own campus, at the 2004 Penn Relays.
In light of the over 50 allegations against Cosby, several universities have rescinded honorary degrees granted to him — Tufts, Lehigh and Baylor universities among them. Penn, which granted Cosby an honorary degree in 1990, has declined to comment on whether the University plans to take away his degree. But we think there’s a clear path for the University to follow: Revoke his honorary doctorate.
Some might argue that Penn shouldn’t rescind Cosby’s honorary degree because he has not been convicted of any crimes. Cosby, for his part, has vehemently denied the accusations against him. And so have his daughter and his wife. It would similarly be wrong for Penn to rescind Cosby’s degrees just because other universities have done so — because following the crowd doesn’t mean you’re doing the right thing.
Instead, Penn should revoke Cosby’s degree because he is no longer deserving of the honor. If Cosby had not previously received an honorary degree from Penn, there’s no way the University would give one to him now. And there is a reason for that — a reason that goes beyond the formal proof of Cosby’s guilt or innocence.
The University is not a court. It does not require legal precedence or jurisdiction in order to take a stand against someone or something that does not uphold its core values. Regardless of whether all of the allegations against Cosby could hold up in a court of law, the number of women that have come forward makes Cosby a man of dubious morality.
Furthermore, recent probes into Cosby’s own comments on past accusations do not help his record. In a 2005 deposition — which a judge unsealed this year — Cosby admitted that he obtained quaaludes with the intention of giving them to women with whom he wanted to have sex.
If the University gave Cosby a degree at this year’s graduation, it would reinforce the stigma surrounding sexual assault and discourage students from reporting when they have been the victims of sexual violence. When the University honors a man who has been accused of sexual assault by nearly 60 people, victims might question whether they can trust Penn to take their experiences seriously.
If Penn wants to be serious about sexual assault — and, more generally, good citizenship — it cannot continue to implicitly laud Cosby. The University should realize that taking away Cosby’s degree would not be in the same realm as a punishment in the legal sense. Instead, it would be a condemnation of Cosby’s character and would represent the fact that his character is not in line with the University’s standards.
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