George Washington U. takes back Cosby's honourary degree

Bill Cosby (AP)
Bill Cosby (AP)

Washington — In a reversal of its previous stance, George Washington University said on Monday it will rescind an honourary degree awarded to Bill Cosby in 1997, saying the debate over the honour was creating trauma for sexual assault victims.

Last fall, GW said that it never took back honourary degrees based on information that came to light later.

But debate over the subject continued on campus, and GW president Steven Knapp said in a statement on Monday that he was persuaded by those who voiced ongoing concerns about the honour.

"What has particularly moved and impressed me has been the argument that, whatever may ultimately be determined about the guilt or innocence of Mr. Cosby in a court of law, the controversy itself has become a cause of renewed distress for our students and alumni who are survivors of sexual assault," Knapp said.

Cosby will be formally notified

Cosby, 78, was charged in December with drugging and sexually assaulting a woman at his Pennsylvania home in 2004. Dozens of other women have accused the comedian of sexual assault or attempted molestation, and he faces several lawsuits. In one case, he admitted under oath that he obtained Quaaludes to give to women he planned to have sex with.

The allegations have unravelled Cosby's once-sterling reputation as an entertainer, family man and champion of education. He has received dozens of honorary degrees, and a handful of universities have rescinded those honours within the past year.

Knapp said his decision was related to a broader effort to address sexual assault on campus, including mandatory training for students. That context was important as he decided to make an exception to the university's policy of not taking back honorary degrees, he said.

The university will formally notify Cosby of its decision and remove his name from a list of honourary degree recipients, spokesperson Candace Smith said.

Located in the Foggy Bottom section of downtown Washington, GW is a private university created by an act of Congress in 1821. It has 21 000 students.