Last week, the University of Connecticut’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG) in Storrs unanimously passed a statement of position calling “upon the University… to immediately revoke the honorary degree awarded to Bill Cosby in 1996.”
A statement of position does not put into effect said position, but is a show of support as USG is charged with reflecting the views of the undergraduate student body.
Cosby has been accused of sexual assault by more than 50 women, has had criminal charges filed against him for just that in recent years and, in 2006, admitted to buying sedatives with the aim of giving them to women.
The author of the bill, Haddiyyah Ali, a fourth-semester political science and Africana studies double major, a commuter senator and a contributor to The Daily Campus, explained why she brought this piece of legislation to vote.
“I introduced it because…we wanted to encourage the university to honor their commitment to survivors of sexual assault,” Ali said. “The bill is to urge the administration to revoke that degree, as anyone who has committed such heinous crimes has no right to hold a degree of that magnitude.”
UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz has said as early as last year that, “This issue has been the topic of thoughtful discussion, although UConn has made no decision yet.”
Eight other universities have annulled Cosby’s honorary degrees, including Brown University, Marquette University, Oberlin College and Fordham University.
Cosby came to UConn in 1996 to deliver a commencement speech and was awarded an honorary degree in fine arts. His speech was well-received, and in 2012, UConn posted a video of the speech to its Facebook page with the caption “Happy 75th birthday to our friend Bill Cosby!”
Stephen Porcello, a fourth-semester political science and finance double major and USG’s funding board chair, saw this topic as a possible issue at UConn when George Washington University President Steven Knapp decided to rescind Cosby’s degree from the school.
“So I thought, let me check to see if UConn gave [Cosby] one, and we did, and it just seemed to me like we shouldn’t be associating ourselves with a man of that moral character,” Porcello said. “Some people have approached me after we passed it and…claimed we shouldn’t have done it because nothing has been proven against him, which is problematic, but beside the point. An honorary degree is given by choice on behalf of the university, and I believe the administration should have the choice to revoke it.”
Co-sponsors of the action, beyond author Ali and Porcello, includes Daniel Byrd, a CLAS senator and USG president-elect, Stephanie Sponzo, a McMahon senator, Fahima Dirir, ex-officio senator of the African-American Cultural Center and Bennett Cognato, CLAS senator.
According to the university, honorary degrees are awarded “only in recognition of extraordinary and lasting distinction. The award should represent the highest intellectual and moral values, it should reflect the very character and quality of the university itself.”
Sten Spinella is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.