Penn will not rescind Bill Cosby’s honorary degree, the University said in a statement Friday. Cosby, 77, who was accused two weeks ago of sexually assaulting someone at Penn Relays in 2004, received a Doctorate of Laws from Penn in 1990 and spoke at Commencement in 1997.
“While the allegations against Mr. Cosby are deeply troubling, it is not our practice to rescind honorary degrees,” Vice President for University Communications Steve MacCarthy said in a statement.
Despite this statement, Penn has previously rescinded two honorary degrees. German Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm II was awarded an honorary degree in 1905, and German Ambassador to the United States and Mexico Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff received one in 1911. Both had their degrees rescinded in 1918 following the United States’ diplomatic break with Germany during World War I.
When asked to clarify Penn’s policy, MacCarthy said, “I don’t have anything further that I can add.”
Cosby has received over 60 honorary degrees from various universities. At least 11 schools have chosen to revoke his degree, including Springfield College, Franklin & Marshall College, Tufts University, Goucher College, Lehigh University, Fordham University, Marquette University, Baylor University, Amherst College, Wilkes University (Pa.), Brown University and Muhlenberg College.
Like Penn, dozens of other universities have chosen not to rescind Cosby’s degrees, citing policies or precedent.
Yale University, for example, that “the university has never rescinded an honorary degree and has not rescinded his,” while the College of William and Mary said that it “bestows honorary degrees based on information known at the time when they are conferred, and these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.”
Cosby has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 50 women. One of Cosby’s many accusers, Donna Barrett, said in a press conference on Oct. 23 that Cosby groped her on Penn’s campus while she was officiating the Penn Relays in 2004.
“Hey, back that thing up here, girl, back it on up!” Cosby reportedly said while pressing Barrett toward his body. She spoke to other officials at the Penn Relays about the incident, “but no one knew what to do.”
Meanwhile, students across campus have called for Penn to revoke Cosby’s degree. The Penn Association for Gender Equity said Penn’s decision constitutes silent approval of the allegations against Cosby.
“Honorary degrees are [a] university’s way of commending individuals for their contribution to society and the way they live their lives,” a PAGE representative said in an email. “Penn should not honor individuals that perpetuate sexual assault — and more broadly — and a culture of shame and silencing of sexual assault survivors.”
The following is a comprehensive list of the universities which have awarded Cosby honorary degrees and whether each school has reportedly rescinded his degree:
Amherst College (Rescinded)
Baylor University (Rescinded)
Berklee College of Music
Brown University (Rescinded)
Carnegie Mellon University
College of William and Mary
Delaware State University
Fashion Institute of Technology
Fordham University (Rescinded)
Franklin & Marshall (Rescinded)
George Washington University
Goucher College (Rescinded)
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Johns Hopkins University
Lehigh University (Rescinded)
Marquette University (Rescinded)
New York University
North Carolina A&T State University
Ohio State University
Old Dominion University
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Spelman College (Rescinded)
Springfield College (Rescinded)
Tufts University (Rescinded)
University of Cincinnati
University of Connecticut
University of Maryland
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
University of Notre Dame
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
University of Pennsylvania
University of Pittsburgh
University of San Francisco (Rescinded)
University of South Carolina
University of Southern California
Virginia Commonwealth University
West Chester University
Wilkes University (Rescinded)
Online Graphics Editor Henry Lin, Senior Reporter Dan Spinelli and Deputy News Editor Isabel Kim contributed reporting.
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