After three colleges rescinded Bill Cosby’s honorary degrees from their schools this week, many students disagree with Boston University’s reluctance to rescind the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree it awarded Cosby in May 2014.
Fordham University, Marquette University and Brown University all rescinded Cosby’s honorary degrees this week due to the many sexual assault allegations against him as well as developments this summer, which found that in 2005 he admitted to acquiring Quaalude, a sedative, with the intent to give the drug to women.
BU spokesman Colin Riley recently told The Daily Free Press there is “nothing new to report” regarding possibly rescinding Cosby’s degree. Last year, Riley said BU was still unsure of any possible action they would take.
“At this point, we are monitoring the legal developments surrounding Mr. Cosby very closely,” he said in an email, quoted in a December 2014 FreeP story.
In a Sept. 24 email to students, Fordham President Joseph McShane announced the university trustees’ decision to rescind Cosby’s 2001 degree in light of the information that came forth this summer.
“Fordham has never before rescinded an honorary degree,” McShane said. “A recipient’s actions would have to be both unambiguously dishonorable and have a deep impact. By his own admission, Mr. Cosby’s sexual exploitation of women was premeditated and ongoing. Equally appalling is his longtime strategy of denigrating the reputations of women who accused him of such actions.”
McShane said as a Jesuit institution, the school could no longer stand behind Cosby’s actions.
The president and provost of Marquette, also a Jesuit school, said in a statement that they have had conversations with students and faculty who were in support of rescinding the degree.
“Mr. Cosby engaged in behaviors that go entirely against our university’s mission and the Guiding Values we have worked so hard to instill on our campus,” the statement read. “Every day, we live these values by challenging our students to integrate knowledge and faith into their real-life decisions in ways that will shape their lives.”
Jess Klein, the president of BU Feminist Collective, said she strongly believes BU should follow the lead of the other schools.
“[The other schools] said [they] won’t associate with people who’ve committed these heinous acts of violence and that they believe the women who have come forward,” said Klein, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. “I think that BU should make that powerful statement, especially with the recent sexual assault survey that went out.”
Klein said the results of the survey prove sexual assault is happening on campus, so BU’s choice to continue to associate itself with someone who has committed numerous sexual assaults is hypocritical.
“For a university to come out against sexual assault [saying], ‘We’re shocked this is happening on our campus and we’re deeply saddened,’ but then to still associate itself with someone who has committed this act, and everyone knows he committed this act … there’s dissonance there for someone to say one thing and their actions don’t reflect that,” she said.
Ultimately if BU rescinds Cosby’s degree, Klein said, the action would not go unnoticed.
“Boston University is such a big, well-known university and for them to take that stance,” she said, “that would be so important to survivors on this campus and also on other campuses as well.”
Several other students expressed their discomfort at the fact that Cosby still holds an honorary degree at BU.
“It doesn’t really look good to give honorary degrees to rapists. Technically they’re not related, but it looks bad, it looks like you’re honoring a person who committed a terrible crime against a lot of people,” said Emily Damiano, a freshman in CAS. “That doesn’t look so great for BU.”
Natalie Odrich, a sophomore in the College of General Studies, said she finds the whole situation surrounding Cosby and BU disturbing and agrees his degree should be rescinded.
“Cosby’s actions are foul, disturbing and demeaning to women and it makes BU look ignorant by maintaining an honorary degree to Cosby, especially being that sexual assault is a hot topic on campus,” she said. “It is incredibly disturbing knowing that a potential rapist was offered an honorary degree at BU and no one has spoken out to deny the degree.”
Nakia Ellies, a junior in Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, said she thinks BU is trying to remain neutral, but BU’s recent history with handling sexual misconduct parallels the university’s silence guarding Cosby in an unflattering way.
“It’s not that big of a coincidence given their lack of action as far as sexual misconduct and student allegations on campus. So it doesn’t surprise me unfortunately,” she said. “Overall it’s going to hurt students more than anything, especially for students who have been affected by similar circumstances on campus.”
Although most students agree Cosby’s actions are wrong, some students think rescinding his degree might not be necessary.
“While the acts Cosby committed are not at all appropriate or legal, and while I do think that action should be taken against him to protect future victims and to offer some solace to those whose lives he has affected in a truly terrible way, I don’t think that rescinding a degree will have a profound effect,” said Laura Robinson, a sophomore in Sargent College.
Robinson said BU should be focusing instead on the sexual assaults happening on its own campus, rather than focusing on Cosby’s past actions.
“While it is interesting that BU has not taken any action on this matter, I would hope that BU is taking more action to prevent similar violations and assaults on its own campus,” she said, “and to deal with safety and legal matters related to its own student body.”