College will not rescind Cosby’s 1993 honorary degree

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September 8, 2015

8:38 AM

Recent sexual assault allegations surrounding comedian Bill Cosby have prompted the two-dozen schools that have bestowed him with honorary degrees, including the College of William and Mary, to consider rescinding these honors.

Cosby received an honorary degree from the College in 1993, and it has not been revoked. The comedian also served as the commencement speaker that same year. Every year, the College names a select few individuals to be the recipient of honorary degrees, one of whom is the commencement speaker.

“People often want Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, J.K. Rowling and those are hard to get. I’d love to see J.K. Rowling speak,” Halleran said.

That year Cosby was selected through a process that involved a few administrative and student-operated bodies. The recipients are determined through the Honorary Degrees Advisory Committee, which is composed of faculty members and students in the junior class. The students work together to create a list of people they would like to speak at commencement.

“The junior class leaders then have a few months to compile their list of recommended speakers, then send us a list of their top 10 recommendations. In turn, we forward the list to the Provost,” Assistant to the Vice President and Chief of Staff Gregory Henderson said in an email.

Alexandria Foster ’15 served as the president of her class and, as such, participated in the student advisory board. She stated that her year’s student advisory board submitted some bids for famous authors, as well as for Bill Lawrence ‘90, the creator of the television show Scrubs. She noted that most of their ideal speakers were unrealistic options due to their level of fame.

“A lot of them were definitely a stretch,” Foster said. “I really liked being part of that process. It was nice to have a say.”

After looking at the Advisory Committee’s compilation, Provost Michael R. Halleran then sends the list to President Taylor Reveley. Anyone at the College can make a recommendation to the President, who consults with the Rector before sending the recommendations to the Board of Visitors, who makes the ultimate decision on the honorary degree recipients.

Halleran noted that, year after year, students cast the same bids for certain people to come to the College to speak.

“[They are] people who you would be proud to see represent [the College],” Halleran said. “People often want Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, J.K. Rowling and those are hard to get. I’d love to see J.K. Rowling speak.”

“We’ve never rescinded a degree. We don’t intend to,” Halleran said “It’s very messy what would be the criteria [for removal]. We gave it to him in ’93. Rescinding I don’t think is a good option.”

Although many choices are unfeasible, Cosby, celebrated for his television program The Cosby Show, was able to come to the College in 1993. Recently, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that almost 50 women have accused Cosby of sexual abuse; some of these cases date back to the 1950s.

Cosby’s actions have prompted a few schools to revoke the honorary degrees they have given him over the years. Halleran noted that schools with a close connection to Cosby are the ones who have sought the most distance from him. For example, Cosby’s alma mater Temple University has disassociated with the comedian, forcing him to resign from their school board. The College does not have the same ties with Cosby.

“We’ve never rescinded a degree. We don’t intend to,” Halleran said “It’s very messy what would be the criteria [for removal]. We gave it to him in ’93. Rescinding I don’t think is a good option.”

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About Author

  • Eleanor Lamb

Senior Staff Writer Eleanor Lamb '16 is an English Major. She previously served as Associate News Editor.

(5) Readers Comments

  1. Andsoitgoes
    September 8, 2015 at 5:00 PM

    He doesn't think it's a "good" option!!!!!????? Guess if you set your standards low enough you can always achieve them. Keepin it classy.

  2. motun
    September 8, 2015 at 7:27 PM

    you guys can shove all your honors. who wants to be honored by stupid schools which teach brain wash material. like it would be a big deal if they rescinded it. Its so laughable institutions in this country that think they are so important. we are rescinding this and that. please take em. Did you build the pyramids? i think not so shut the hell up and stick your honors in you a hole.

    • fukcbuy
      September 8, 2015 at 9:29 PM

      Stupid schools also teach grammar. Heard of it?

      • motun
        September 8, 2015 at 9:52 PM

        oh your grandma you say? Your stupid parents taught you language, idiot. Stupid schools fry your brain cells with stupid junk. you are living proof of that. And i bet you are not even bright enough to drill out the junk thats been filled in your empty head. maybe you should grab one of those worthless, poop worthy honors they are rescinding. lol

  3. Kathy Darrow
    September 8, 2015 at 8:51 PM

    Excellent news! The women accusing Bill Cosby of drugging and raping them waited decades to come forward. None of them appear to have reported the alleged crimes to the police or a doctor. No one denied them justice. Their stories are devoid of key details, rendering them implausible and illogical. Many only give a specific year or a decade that the alleged assault occurred. They refuse to answer any questions and any challenge to their stories is victim-blaming or shaming. They claim they didn't report the alleged crimes in a timely manner for a number of reasons: they were too traumatized and fearful, Cosby was too powerful (in the 1960s and '70s?), and no one would have believed them anyway (were they clairvoyant?). The public is simply expected to condemn Mr. Cosby based on their statements alone. With the help of biased media coverage, the public did, unleashing a firestorm of fury resulting in efforts to scrub his presence from society. He is faulted for not defending himself in the media, yet when he does, he is sued for defamation. He did NOT admit or confess to "drugging" women in the excerpted deposition from the Constand lawsuit. But what about the two recent cases? Chloe Goins alleges that Bill Cosby assaulted her on a specific date, August 9, 2008, the night of the Midsummer Night's Dream party at the Playboy Mansion. Yet there is evidence that he was on the East coast at the time. Should she now be allowed to just keep picking dates until she finds one for which he has no alibi? Judy Huth's suit has similar factual flaws. If her story doesn't fly, how many times will she revise it? Does this matter to anyone? In this country, I believe it should. There are still many unanswered questions. With one pending case, no rape charges, and no convictions, the proclamations that he is a rapist are unjust and defamatory. The accusers waited decades; the rush to condemn him absent any verified evidence is premature and contrary to our system of justice.

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