Ever since the Bill Cosby sexual-assault scandal went viral last year, the Temple University board of trustees has been in a defensive crouch.

This is understandable at one level because Cosby was for decades a high-profile trustee and Temple's best-known graduate. Yet the more that is known about allegations of drug abuse and sexual assault involving America's onetime favorite TV dad, the more it becomes clear that the board failed to confront a grave risk to the university's reputation when the allegations emerged a decade ago.

Much of the resulting damage to Temple, the lurid headlines and the tarnishing of its image, can be traced to the board's inaction.

I asked the university administration what steps it took in the spring of 2005 to find out whether there was merit to allegations in a lawsuit filed by Andrea Constand - the former director of operations for Temple women's basketball - that Cosby had drugged and sexually assaulted her.

In a statement, the university initially said it refrained from taking action as it awaited the outcome of a criminal investigation by then-Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. and the resolution of Constand's lawsuit. The criminal investigation ended without an indictment and the lawsuit was settled, so the matter faded from view for a time.

When I asked again whether Temple's board had any formal process for evaluating misconduct complaints against trustees or senior administrators in 2005, the university said it had one "comprehensive policy for the handling of such matters when they arise in the university community."

For years, it has been the practice at publicly traded companies and major nonprofits to independently investigate claims of misconduct, especially involving senior officials. That is what Villanova University did when it learned in 2011 that former law school administrators had inflated admissions data of incoming first-year law students.

Such rigorous and often painful internal investigations can help institutions ferret out wrongdoing and take steps to head off future problems.

But that is not what happened at Temple.

David Adamany, university president when the first allegations against Cosby arose in 2005 and a trustee on the board with him, said the case never came up in any board meeting and maintained that there was no reason for the board to deal with it. The alleged assault took place off campus and thus evoked no university interest, he said. He described the entire Constand matter as a "non-issue." (The Temple board chairman in 2005, Howard Gittis, died two years later.)

"I have not heard among my colleagues on the faculty one word mentioned about it in a department meeting or in a casual conversation," Adamany, a member of the law school faculty, said in an interview. "I teach graduate and undergraduate courses, and if it were on people's minds, some student would have mentioned it to me. I have not heard a peep."

Despite Adamany's lack of concern, there was plenty of reason for alarm. Questions concerning Cosby's conduct had the potential to blow up in Temple's face, which of course they did when other women subsequently came forward with allegations of sexual assault.

Under fire from allegations by at least 20 women that he had assaulted them sexually, Cosby in December 2014 resigned the trustee seat he had held on the university's board since 1982. His decision was relayed to the board by its chairman, Patrick O'Connor, who also has served as Cosby's lawyer.

The Constand lawsuit was no "he said, she said" claim, in which it was hard to tell who was speaking the truth or whether the matter threatened anyone's reputation. It was a "he said, they said" catalog of alleged sexual abuse that should have set off warning lights at the university, but did not.

According to Constand's complaint, Cosby gave her what he said was an herbal remedy for stress in a January 2004 meeting at his Cheltenham mansion, but was in reality a narcotic that left her immobile on his couch while he assaulted her.

Constand's lawyers promised to bring forward 13 other women who said they had had similar experiences with Cosby before the case was settled.

In the face of those allegations, Robert Reinstein, a former dean of Temple University Beasley School of Law and a constitutional law professor there, said there was no excuse for the university board's failure to act.

"We have a situation where we are talking about allegations of sexual assault by a trustee against a university employee. How could that not be an issue for the university?" said Reinstein, who also has served as university general counsel. "The university should have investigated it and come to a conclusion, and if the conclusion was that she was telling the truth, they should have severed all relations" with Cosby.

Another Temple board member who served as a trustee when the Cosby allegations first emerged said the failure to discuss Constand's claims shows the inadequacy of Temple's governance. The board still has no policy for bringing such matters up for discussion, he said. He declined to be identified because he remains a trustee and said he was concerned that speaking publicly could harm his ability to work with other trustees.

"The problem is that the university's reputation and importance have grown much faster than improvements to governance," he said.

Plenty of information was available, had the board been interested in finding it. Temple administrators could have gone to Castor, whose detectives interviewed Cosby. Castor concluded that he had too little to go forward with a criminal case - too much time had elapsed between the alleged assault and her report to police. But he said he came away thinking Constand's claims had merit.

"When you read his [Cosby's] statement, it was, in my judgment and the judgment of the detective, evasive and imprecise, and there was no reason for him to be evasive and imprecise," Castor said in an interview.

Castor said that as far as he knew Temple officials never approached his office for information about the investigation.

This lack of interest may have reflected the hope that the whole matter would go away. But it also reveals the board's antiquated thinking and procedures.

Temple law school professor Marina Angel, who wrote the university's sexual-harassment policy in the early 1990s, knew Constand and found her credible. She said one university vice president "denigrated" Constand and dismissed her claim in a conversation at the time. It should not be surprising, then, that a Temple board dominated by men, and that traditionally has had only a handful of women, would do nothing.

"They did what they always do; they ignored it and blamed Andrea," Angel said.

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