On Nov. 12, President John A. Fry announced that Drexel University will revoke its honorary degree awarded to Bill Cosby in 1992. This makes Drexel the first University in the Philadelphia region to rescind one of Cosby’s degrees.
He wrote to the University: “The misconduct by Bill Cosby that came to light through his sworn deposition testimony stands in clear opposition to Drexel’s values. As a result, the University has revoked the honorary Drexel degree bestowed upon Mr. Cosby in 1992. I have made this decision in consultation with the Executive Committee of Drexel’s Board of Trustees.”
Fry refers to the allegations made against Cosby in sexual misconduct and assault of dozens of women, including using drugs in order to take advantage of them.
He continued, “Universities are critical arenas in the movement to recognize and address sexual violence and misconduct as a societal problem. Drexel takes that responsibility very seriously, and the decision to revoke Mr. Cosby’s honorary degree flows from that responsibility.”
Cosby was awarded the traditional honorary degree, a Doctor in Pedagogy (the field dealing with the method and practice of teaching), after he was the convocation speaker for that academic year. Drexel’s revocation follows similar revocations by several schools around the country, including Lehigh University and Franklin & Marshall College. The University of Pittsburgh, Haverford College and West Chester University have reportedly been discussing the option, according to Philadelphia Magazine. Temple University, Cosby’s alma mater, has been outspoken in the defense of Cosby, and reported having no discussion of revoking Cosby’s degree. The vice president of the office of communications of the University of Pennsylvania said that it was not in their practice to revoke honorary degrees, and thus was not discussing the option. (However, University of Pennsylvania has revoked two honorary degrees in the past, belonging to German Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm II (awarded 1905) and German ambassador to the United States and Mexico Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff (awarded 1911). Both had their degrees rescinded in 1918.
This is the first that Drexel has mentioned revoking Cosby’s honorary degree. When Philadelphia Magazine asked schools whether they would be revoking their honorary degrees in light of the allegations in October, Drexel did not respond. However, they did report to New York Magazine on or before October 27 that “no action had been taken at this time.”
Stephen Sheller, a member of Drexel’s Board of Trustees was quoted in a story Nov. 2 by the Philadelphia Inquirer about decisions to revoke Cosby’s honorary degrees. Sheller said, “You want to be very cautious and get all the information and make a carefully considered decision. I see other universities have done it. I would recommend we find out what was behind their decision and make sure we’re making the right decision.”
Following Drexel’s revocation, there are now 36 schools left where Cosby holds honorary degrees.