Boston University honored entertainer Bill Cosby with an honorary degree in May 2014, making it the most recent higher education institution to do so. On Monday, it took the award back, but it won't say why it gave Cosby the honor in the first place at a time when multiple women had already publicly said he raped them.
Cosby received dozens of honorary degrees over several decades. But in the past two years, many schools have revoked or considered revoking those degrees due to the mounting allegations that he sexually assaulted and drugged women as far back as the 1970s.
On Tuesday, Boston University joined its peers by announcing it was taking back the honorary degree it gave Cosby. Like many schools, BU said it was revoking the honor because of a 2005 deposition, released in July 2015, in which he admitted to procuring drugs to give to women he intended to have sex with. But unlike the other schools, BU conferred the degree after some allegations had already started receiving media attention.
In an email, BU spokesman Colin Riley defended the university giving Cosby the award at the time it did, saying that most allegations began surfacing "following Hannibal Buress' standup in Oct. 2014. Cosby's receipt of an honorary degree in May 2014 preceded that event."
Most of the women who have come forward today did, in fact, do so beginning in the fall of 2014, following comedian Hannibal Buress discussing it on stage. When asked about it in October of that year, Buress said he'd been talking about it on stage for several months, and noted, "It's just information that's out there."
But months earlier, when Cosby was scheduled to receive the honorary degree at BU, there had already been a renewed interest in the allegations against him.
In February 2014, Slate, The Wrap, Newsweek, Gawker, BuzzFeed and others were all writing about the allegations in light of a planned NBC comedy starring Cosby. (The Huffington Post's coverage of the allegations began around September 2014.)
BU declined to respond to multiple requests from The Huffington Post about whether it considered the February 2014 coverage, or the widespread attention to the public accusations in 2005, when it decided to give the award to Cosby in May 2014.
Riley kept redirecting HuffPost to Monday's statement that the university only learned about his "admitted conduct" after awarding him the degree. When pressed again if the university considered what allegations were public when it picked Cosby to get their award, Riley said, "I wasn’t in the room." He declined to provide more information.
Marquette University, University of San Francisco, Oberlin College, Virginia Commonwealth University and Carnegie Mellon University also all had given Cosby an honorary degree after the 2005 civil lawsuit over sexual assault allegations was public. Marquette and USF rescinded the awards, while Oberlin and CMU have not yet said whether they will. VCU has not rescinded the award but said last month that Cosby's alleged behavior as detailed in public reports is "despicable."