New York — Fordham University has the right to rescind an honourary degree given to Bill Cosby in 2001 but was irresponsible and inaccurate in explaining why it took the step, an attorney for Cosby said in a letter on Friday.
Attorney John P. Schmitt responded to Fordham's decision in the letter addressed to the Rev. Joseph McShane, the university's president, and made public by Cosby's publicist, David Brokaw.
Schmitt, noting he was a Fordham Law School alumnus, said the Board of Trustees acted within its rights.
But he added that the university's statement was "so irresponsible as to shock the conscience" and said it "grossly mischaracterises both Mr. Cosby's actions and his deposition testimony, in language more befitting a tabloid journal rather than a respected institution of higher learning."
"Nothing in his testimony admits to any nonconsensual sexual contact with any woman whatsoever," Schmitt's letter said. "As you know, Mr. Cosby has been convicted of no crime and has steadfastly maintained his innocence."
Fordham is not alone in its response to allegations made against Cosby. On Thursday, Marquette's Board of Trustees approved a resolution rescinding an honourary degree presented to Cosby in 2013. The degree was immediately rescinded, the school said.
A first for both schools
Both Jesuit schools said it was the first time they have rescinded an honourary degree.
Previously, Central State University, Temple University and Spelman College distanced themselves from the comedian.
Cosby has acknowledged having extramarital relationships with several women, including some who now accuse him of sexual assault. He has never been charged.
"As a Jesuit university, Fordham could no longer stand behind the degree it had bestowed upon Mr. Cosby, hence this unprecedented action," the New York City university said.
Marquette President Michael Lovell and Provost Daniel Myers issued a letter to the university community after the vote there that said, "By his own admission, Mr. Cosby engaged in behaviours that go entirely against our university's mission and the Guiding Values we have worked so hard to instill on our campus."
In his letter to Fordham, Schmitt criticised the university for an apparent effort to lend "gratuituous support" to defamation suits pending against Cosby, citing what he called the school's unfounded claim that the entertainer has a "longtime strategy of denigrating the reputations of women who accused him of such actions."
The attorney noted that the school failed to mention Cosby's donations to it over a dozen years.