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George Washington University Stands By Bill Cosby’s Honorary Degree

Photograph by Flickr user Ted Eytan.

The George Washington University is sticking by a statement it made in October upholding the honorary degree it awarded Bill Cosby in 1997, despite a unanimous vote this week by its student government in favor of stripping Cosby of the honor.

“While we are shocked and disturbed by the allegations against Mr. Cosby, honorary degrees are conferred at a moment in time, based on what the university knows about the honoree at that time,” the university’s statement reads. “It has never been the university’s practice to rescind an honorary degree.”

More than 50 women have accused Cosby of drugging or sexually assaulting them. While Cosby’s public image has only been affected since 2014, allegations against the comedian date back to at least 1967, and Cosby admitted in a 2005 deposition to giving women sedatives while pursuing them for sex.

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Cosby has received 57 honorary degrees in his career, but several have been rescinded since the allegations against him came to light. Fordham, Marquette, and Brown universities said in September they would take back the degrees they awarded Cosby; Tufts followed suit in October; and Spelman College, a historically black liberal-arts college for women in Atlanta, ended an endowed professorship sponsored by Cosby and his wife in June.

An honorary degree should be reserved for someone who represents the values of our university,” Erika Feinman, a member of GW’s student government, told WRC-TV. The school’s former president, Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who gave Cosby the honorary diploma, told WRC the comedian is “a monster,” but that “it’s pointless to retract it.”

But there are no changes to the position the university staked out in October. “Still the same statement,” says GW spokeswoman Candace Smith.

“When a university decides to bestow an honorary degree upon someone, they are aligning that person with values and views of that university,” Lauren Courtney of the campus group Students Against Sexual Assault told the Hatchet. “We are actively telling these 51 survivors that Bill Cosby is a honorable man.”

GW is far from the only Washington institution dogged by its connection to Cosby. Ben’s Chili Bowl, where Cosby has long been able to eat for free, is being petitioned to remove his face from the mural on its outside wall (the artwork was also briefly defaced with the visage of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un). And the Smithsonian has stood by the National Museum of African Art’s exhibit “Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue,” which features 62 items from Cosby’s personal collection

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Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.