College officials do not plan to rescind more degrees after first-ever decision to rescind Cosby’s

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Bill Cosby approaching his trial. COURTESY PHOTO / MONTGOMERY COUNTY PLANNING COMMISSION

After the College of William and Mary’s Board of Visitors voted unanimously to rescind an honorary degree given to Bill Cosby in 1993 because of his conviction on sexual assault charges in April 2018, College officials have said that they do not plan to rescind any other degrees in the future.

“This was not a decision that we came to lightly; it was a deliberative process,” College President Katherine Rowe said. “We have a long tradition of not rescinding honorary degrees. This exception was necessary because of the egregious nature of the crimes. … This is an exception. We don’t anticipate [opening] up other honorary degrees for this decision.”

“This was not a decision that we came to lightly; it was a deliberative process,” College President Katherine Rowe said. “We have a long tradition of not rescinding honorary degrees. This exception was necessary because of the egregious nature of the crimes. … This is an exception. We don’t anticipate [opening] up other honorary degrees for this decision.”

In September 2015, Provost Michael Halleran previously said that the College did not intend to rescind Cosby’s honorary degree, as the process for removal would be “messy.”

Despite the College’s earlier stance, however, Halleran echoed Rowe’s thoughts and expressed his support for the decision.

“This isn’t an action that anyone took lightly and I fully support the Board’s decision,” Halleran said in an email. “As you know, no such degree had ever been rescinded. The reason for this is that William & Mary bestows honorary degrees based on information known at the time when they are conferred and [honorary degrees] do not constitute a standing endorsement of anyone’s moral character.”

The Haven, an office within the College’s Division of Student Affairs that focuses on aiding individuals who have been affected by sexual misconduct, supports the BOV’s decision to rescind Cosby’s degree, according to director Liz Cascone.

“There are a number of survivors who are a part of the William & Mary family; therefore, taking a firm stance on Mr. Cosby’s conduct can make many people feel like William & Mary is taking proactive steps to show the community his conduct is reprehensible,” Cascone said in an email.

Cosby, formerly of “The Cosby Show,” was found guilty on three counts of aggravated indecent assault, stemming from December 2015 charges.

The College’s decision to rescind Cosby’s degree follows almost three months after actions made by other universities. After the initial allegations against Cosby came to light, the University of Massachusetts Amherst released the actor, who earned his master’s and doctorate in education there, from his obligations to the university in 2014, according to the Boston Globe.

Cosby resigned from Temple University’s Board of Trustees  in December 2014. Temple joined other universities around the nation, such as Johns Hopkins University and the University of Notre Dame, in rescinding the actor’s honorary degrees promptly after his conviction April 26, 2018.

A statement from the BOV notes that the College decided to rescind his degree not only because of his conviction, but also because of the College’s values.

“Since that degree was bestowed, information came to light and was confirmed that Mr. Cosby engaged in abhorrent conduct antithetical to our university’s core values,” the BOV said in a written statement. “Mr. Cosby was afforded due process and has now been criminally convicted in a court of law.”

According to the Aug. 10 statement, the BOV sees the passing of the new resolution, which rescinds Cosby’s degree, as an act that aligns with the College’s goals to address sexual violence.

“The Board of Visitors, in conjunction with the university administration, is committed to both the elimination of sexual violence and the adherence to due process,” the BOV said in a written statement. “We affirm that commitment with our action today.”

“The Board of Visitors, in conjunction with the university administration, is committed to both the elimination of sexual violence and the adherence to due process,” the BOV said in a written statement. “We affirm that commitment with our action today.”

Recently, the College’s Compliance and Equity Office released proposed revisions to the Policy on Sexual Misconduct, Relationship Violence and Stalking and to the Student Sexual Harassment and Misconduct Procedure, which were available for students, staff, and faculty members to review and comment through Aug. 21.