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University of Pennsylvania strips Steve Wynn, Bill Cosby of honors

Penn President Amy Gutmann and Trustee Chair David L. Cohen said universities must provide "moral leadership," in announcing the decision to strip Wynn and Cosby's names from the university.

Bill Cosy and Steve Wynn have been stripped of their honors by the University of Pennsylvania.
Bill Cosy and Steve Wynn have been stripped of their honors by the University of Pennsylvania.Read moreTom Gralish / Staff and Charles Krupa / AP Photo

The University of Pennsylvania, acting on published allegations that former trustee Steve Wynn engaged in decades-long acts of sexual harassment and intimidation, announced Thursday that it would remove his name from a plaza in the heart of its campus and take other steps to distance itself from the hotel and casino mogul.

At the same time, the Ivy League university announced it would revoke honorary degrees previously awarded to Wynn and Bill Cosby, who has been accused of sexual assault by dozens of women.

The school also stripped Wynn's name from a scholarship fund he created at the school, though the scholarships will continue.

The decision on Wynn was swift, coming just days after the Wall Street Journal first reported the allegations that Wynn harassed or assaulted women, with one case leading to a $7.5 million settlement.

"It has been a century since the University of Pennsylvania last revoked an honorary degree, and we do not take that decision – or the decision to remove Mr. Wynn's name from the Commons and from the scholarship fund he created – lightly," Penn president Amy Gutmann and David L. Cohen, chair of the board of trustees, said in a statement. "We view these as extraordinary and essentially unique circumstances that call for an immediate, decisive, and clearly ethical response."

The move comes after Wynn, while denying the allegations, resigned from his position as finance chairman for the Republican National Committee and after the board of directors of Wynn Resorts formed a special committee to investigate the allegations against him. Gaming regulators in Nevada and Massachusetts are also investigating, according to reports.

"The nature, severity, and extent of these allegations, and the patterns of abusive behavior they describe, involve acts and conduct that are inimical to the core values of our university," Gutmann and Cohen said.

By Thursday afternoon, the university had covered Wynn's name, with plans to remove it. Earlier this week, the sign was vandalized, according to a story in the Daily Pennsylvanian, Penn's student newspaper.

A representative for Wynn said he would have no comment on the action. A spokesperson for Cosby did not respond to a request for comment.

The decision was largely heralded by students and staff on campus, though some wondered why it took the university so long to act on Cosby's degree. Allegations had been swirling against him for years, and the entertainer was charged with the sexual assault of Temple University employee Andrea Constand more than a year ago. Many other universities have stripped Cosby of his honorary degree, including Lehigh, Drexel, Swarthmore, Muhlenberg, and Franklin and Marshall. Penn previously declared it was not the school's practice to revoke honorary degrees.

"I was embarrassed to be a Penn student at that time, for Penn not to denounce the actions of Bill Cosby," said junior Abby McGuckin of Radnor, one of the first members of We Are Watching, a feminist art collective that gained national media attention in fall 2016 for publicizing a sexist party invitation sent by OZ, an underground fraternity. "There's too much trust to lose at this point during the #MeToo campaign to not denounce certain actions."

The university said in a statement that once it decided to revoke Wynn's honorary degree, it "made it also clear that the multiple and highly credible charges involving Bill Cosby warranted the same action. This is simply the right thing to do at the right time."

A small committee of trustees, alumni, deans and faculty made the recommendations to strip Wynn and Cosby of their honors. Those recommendations were accepted by the executive committee of the trustees.

Wynn, a 1963 graduate of Penn, served on the board of trustees for a decade until 2004 and received his honorary degree in 2006. Cosby got his honorary degree in 1990.

Wynn's name was placed on the Commons after he donated $7.5 million to the school. The plaza, in a prime location on the West Philadelphia campus, is bordered by Houston Hall, Cohen Hall, College Hall — home to Gutmann's office — and Irvine Auditorium.

Since the Journal reported the allegations against Wynn late last week, pressure on the long-time casino magnate has been mounting.

Penn last revoked an honorary degree in 1918, according to the student newspaper. Both the German Kaiser Wilhelm II, who received one in 1905, and Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff, the German ambassador to the United States and Mexico, who received one in 1911, lost their honors during World War I, according to the Daily Pennsylvanian.

In their statement, Gutmann and Cohen noted the sexual allegations against a myriad of men in recent months and said universities must provide "moral leadership."

"Our nation is currently undergoing a profound reckoning regarding the role and extent of sexual misconduct in all areas of our society," they said.  "It is incumbent on all of us to address these issues wherever and whenever we find that they affect our extended community."

Staff writer Dan Spinelli contributed to this article.