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April 27, 2018

Temple rescinds honorary degree it gave Bill Cosby

The comedian and alumnus was convicted Thursday of indecent assault

Temple University announced Friday that its board of trustees would rescind the honorary degree it awarded to Bill Cosby more than two decades ago.

The comedian was found guilty Thursday by a Montgomery County jury of three counts of aggravated indecent assault against Andrea Constand, a former Temple University employee. It’s a big win for the #MeToo Movement and for the other 50-something accusers that came forward to level similar accusations against Cosby.

RELATED: Bill Cosby found guilty in sexual assault retrial

The university said it would take back the honorary Doctor of Laws degree it bestowed on Cosby in 1991. 

Other universities began to cut ties with the comedian immediately following the announcement of the guilty verdict on Thursday afternoon, including Carnegie Mellon University, Johns Hopkins, Notre Dame and Wesleyan University. A number of Philadelphia-area colleges, including Drexel, Swarthmore and Haverford rescinded honorary degrees in 2015 and 2016. In February, Penn took back an honorary degree awarded in 1990.

“Temple University respects today’s decision reached by the jury in the Bill Cosby case,” a statement released Thursday read. “Today’s decision provides additional facts for the University to consider with respect to Bill Cosby’s honorary degree.”

For now, Cosby still has the honorary degree he was awarded 15 years ago by West Chester University.

Since he graduated from Temple in 1971, the university has been part of Cosby’s persona. The branded sweatshirts and caps, the North Philly-based animated show “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” that sprung out of his stand-up bits, routine visits and speaking engagements to the university and North Philly neighborhood.

Every year, Cosby gave the commencement speech to the university’s graduates. He was on the board of trustees, starting in 1982. He made the working-class university famous as one of its most esteemed alumni.

But it all started to sour in 2014 when Cosby stepped down from the board of trustees amid a resurfacing of Constand’s allegations. Students demanded action from university officials. But Patrick O’Connor, chair of the board and Cosby’s former lawyer (who defended Cosby against Constand in 2005), has remained a financial and political pillar at the institution.

At the beginning of the 2017-18 academic year, the university dedicated The Founder’s Garden — which sits in the middle of its main campus — to the chairman of the board and his wife, despite student pushback.

Now, below a statue of the school's mascot, the Temple Owl, sits a plaque: “O’Connor Plaza.”

The university had noted in its statement on Thursday that O’Connor “will recuse himself from any discussions or decisions related to this matter."