The College of William and Mary broke with tradition Friday morning when the Board of Visitors voted unanimously to revoke comedian Bill Cosby’s honorary degree. It is the first time the university has rescinded an honorary degree.
The board’s decision follows an April trial where Cosby was convicted on three counts of sexual assault, according to the Washington Post.
Following university custom, in 1993 William and Mary awarded Cosby the honorary degree after he spoke at commencement.
Chief Communications Officer Brian Whitson said Cosby has been awarded nearly 70 honorary degrees throughout his life and William and Mary is almost the 60th to rescind theirs.
In a series of meetings largely focused on planning, the board’s decision on Cosby was its only action item in a two-day retreat.
While moving to a vote, Rector John Littel said President Rowe recommended the university revoke Cosby’s degree.
“We wanted to have a conversation about the appropriateness of (Cosby’s) honorary degree,” Littel said. “Since (the convictions in April) a number of colleges and universities have rescinded (theirs).”
The resolution to rescind Cosby’s degree was sent out beforehand via email to the entire board. There was no discussion when the motion was introduced and it was approved with a unanimous verbal vote.
The process began and ended within a few minutes.
The approved resolution outlines that William and Mary was unaware of Cosby’s criminal history when they awarded his degree and that his history of sexual violence is incompatible with university values.
Along with the resolution, the board released a shared statement on their decision, writing that they support adhering to due process and eliminating sexual violence.
“We affirm that commitment with our action today,” the statement said.
Three years ago, Provost Michael Halleran told the Flat Hat the university had never rescinded an honorary degree and did not plan to in Cosby’s situation.
“It’s very messy what would be the criteria (for removal)... Rescinding I don’t think is a good option,” Halleran said in the 2015 article.
Whitson said the university’s decision to change its mind and make an exception to its longstanding rule reflected the egregious nature of Cosby’s crimes and the proof beyond a reasonable doubt in court.
William and Mary has no plans to re-evaluate other honorary degrees in the future, Whitson said.
Petersen can be reached by phone at 757-345-8812 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.