Goucher rescinds Bill Cosby's honorary degree

Goucher College is among the schools to rescind an honorary degree given to Bill Cosby.

Towson's Goucher College has become the most recent university to rescind an honorary degree to embattled entertainer Bill Cosby.

In a letter dated Thursday that was emailed to the Goucher community, Goucher President Jose Bowen wrote that the board of trustees voted unanimously Wednesday night to take away the honorary doctorate of humane letters that it had awarded Cosby in 2001.

"Troubling accusations have come forward about Cosby having nonconsensual sexual relations with women, and as more and more women came forward this past summer, new evidence revealed Cosby knowingly gave women drugs to encourage sexual relations," Bowen wrote.

"Had this information been known at the time, I am confident Goucher would not have awarded this honor."

The 78-year-old entertainer has been accused by dozens of women who have come forward with accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior ranging from fondling to rape. Several have claimed that Cosby drugged them without their knowledge.

The controversy intensified after a judge ordered that a 2005 deposition that the entertainer had given be unsealed. Under questioning, Cosby admitted giving women quaaludes and over-the-counter drugs that can induce drowsiness, though he described the pill-popping as consensual.

Cosby has consistently denied breaking any laws and has not been charged with a crime. The performer's spokesman, Andrew Wyatt, declined Thursday to comment on Goucher's action.

This month, The New York Times published a list of about five dozen colleges and universities that have awarded honorary degrees to the entertainer. The University of Maryland and the Johns Hopkins University are on that list. Neither Goucher nor the University of Baltimore, which awarded the entertainer an honorary degree in 2013, made the list.

Chris Hart, a spokesman for the University of Baltimore, said that school officials are "assessing the situation."

Nonetheless, Bowen began making inquiries, and when he discovered that Cosby had delivered the commencement address 14 years ago, he brought the matter to the trustees. Some institutions, such as Yale University, have declined to withdraw degrees previously bestowed on Cosby, reasoning that it isn't the schools' job to second-guess the nation's legal system.

But Bowen said he believes an honorary degree has symbolic importance, and as such, the honor can and should be symbolically rescinded.

"We take sexual assault very seriously," he said, "and the behavior he has admitted to is incompatible with Goucher's values."

Earlier this month, several well-known institutions, including Brown, Fordham and Tufts universities, rescinded honorary degrees that they had awarded to Cosby.

Goucher's decision was praised by Karsonya Wise Whitehead, an associate professor of communications and African-American studies at Loyola University Maryland.

"In the beginning, I was definitely one of the people who was saying that we need more proof before we vilify him," she said.

"But when the deposition was unsealed, I read it. He did admit to slipping drugs to women, and that was a turning point for me. We're at a point now where we need to privilege the voices of women who have the courage to come forward and make their voices heard."

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
48°