Baylor yanks Bill Cosby’s 2003 honorary degree amid sexual assault allegations

By Taylor Griffin and Trey Gregory, Editor-in-Chief and Assistant City Editor

Baylor’s Board of Regents voted Thursday to rescind the honorary degree given to Bill Cosby in 2003. The decision was made amid the controversy surrounding Cosby’s multiple past sexual assault accusations.

“Baylor University is working to confront the scourge of interpersonal and sexual violence wherever it occurs,” the university said in a statement Thursday night.

“Because acts of interpersonal and sexual violence contradict our very mission and values, Baylor University is investing significantly to ensure the safety of our campus. Through the efforts of our Title IX Office, we are encouraging victims to report acts of interpersonal and sexual violence, and making sure those suffering from the effects of such acts are provided the necessary support and services to feel safe and be academically successful. It is against this backdrop that Baylor’s Board of Regents has decided to take this action.”

In the last year, Cosby has faced over 50 sexual assault accusations and heavy public backlash.

The honorary doctor of humane letters degree was awarded to Cosby during a spirit rally on Sept. 4, 2003, at Floyd Casey Stadium with more than 20,000 Baylor students, faculty, staff and Central Texans in attendance.

“His life exemplifies the culmination of hard work, discipline, and education,” said former Baylor president Robert B. Sloan Jr. at Cosby’s doctoral hooding. “If he had followed life’s easy path, our world would never have known this gentle, funny man whose humor nudges us to achieve our best, whatever career we seek or the circumstances of our lives.”

That summer, Baylor faced a storm of issues which garnered national attention, including the murder of basketball player Patrick Dennehy by teammate Carlton Dotson, the investigation and punishment of several NCAA violations and the subsequent resignation of Coach Dave Bliss.

Two weeks before the rally, Cosby called then Baylor President Robert B. Sloan Jr. and offered to do the rally for free in order to “lift the spirits of the Baylor and Central Texas communities” after a difficult summer.

“Over the years I have come to know some of the outstanding students, faculty and staff at Baylor, and I know it’s been a tough few months for them,” Cosby said during a teleconference with reporters in 2003. “So I want to let the world know what a great place this is.”

At the start of the rally, Sloan awarded Cosby the honorary doctorate and called him “the icon of American comedy” and one who “turned a difficult childhood into a rich tapestry of comedy.” Cosby was also awarded on stage the distinction of honorary NoZe Brother.

Before Cosby began his performance, he called on the audience to take a moment and remember those who recently passed away, including Baylor basketball player Patrick Dennehy, who was infamously shot and killed by his teammate Carlton Dotson in June 2003.

Cosby then lifted the spirits of the audience for 90 minutes doing his famous comedy routines, giving students advise about how to succeed in college and recounting personal experiences about moving his eldest daughter to college.

“We’re here for a purpose, and that purpose is to live decently, to live honestly,” he told the crowd that night.

Cosby will appear in a deposition today in Los Angeles in the case involving one of his accusers, Judy Huth.

Cosby has denied all wrongdoing and has yet to be charged with a crime but still has five civil lawsuits pending against him; one revived from 2005.

Baylor’s criteria to award an honorary degree is based on the recipient’s, “exhibition of extraordinary excellence of character and eminence in the course of a career, demonstrated by notable achievement and leadership in a field of learning, the arts, the professions, religion, or public service whose uncommon service, leadership, or personal accomplishments serve society and the public good or enrich human life and understanding and serve as a model for present and future generations.”

“Over the course of 170 years Baylor has bestowed more than 400 honorary degrees, from pastors to presidents in wide ranging fields,” said Lori Fogleman, director of Baylor Media Communications.

Other institutions to rescind Cosby’s honorary degrees are Marquette University, Wilkes University, Fordham University, Brown University and University of San Francisco.