Bill Cosby, An Honorary Colby Degree Recipient

Sexual violence and misconduct are hot topics of discussion at virtually all college campuses in the country these days, and this week’s Colby Board of Trustees Meeting was no exception. The Board is deeply interested in Colby’s efforts to address issues of sexual violence on campus, but also looked to the past to re-examine the school’s relationship with a certain high-profile individual currently accused of well over 30 incidents of sexual misconduct over a span of 50 years.

You guessed it: Bill Cosby.

Cosby received an honorary Colby degree as the 1992 commencement speaker, one of 60 honorary degrees bestowed upon the actor/comedian. Over half of these degrees have been rescinded in light of the sexual misconduct allegations against Cosby. But, a statement by the Colby Board of Trustees declares,

“Although Colby College does not rescind honorary degrees, the board shares the deep concerns expressed by many about the conduct attributed to Mr. Cosby. The board believes that the most appropriate and meaningful way to address both this situation and the disturbing prevalence of sexual misconduct revealed in surveys is to ensure that Colby becomes a leader in sexual violence prevention, education, and support.”

Colby is not the only school to have a “no returns” policy when it comes to Honorary Degrees. Haverford College, George Washington University, The College of William & Mary, and Yale University to name a few, believe that once degrees are given they cannot be taken away.

Yet, there is apparent contradiction in the Board’s statement. To make Colby “a leader in sexual violence prevention, education, and support,” could mean making the bold, and perhaps controversial, statement of rescinding the degree as a violation of the Colby Affirmation. If a current student were to be accused of Cosby’s charges, he or she would be stripped of his or her status as a student, no longer eligible for graduation and a degree from the College.

On the other hand, should it come to light after graduation that incidents took place during a student’s time on campus, would the college rescind the degree? What if a student was accused of sexual misconduct taking place post-graduation? What would the college do then?

The position of the College is a complicated one, no doubt. But leaves room to make a bold statement about this campus’ tolerance for sexual violence. Your move, Colby.