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Temple University to consider rescinding Bill Cosby's honorary degree after guilty verdict

Patrick O'Connor, chairman of Temple's board, will recuse himself from the discussion on the matter, the university said. O'Connor, a lawyer, represented Cosby in 2005 against Andrea Constand's sexual assault claims and has faced criticism for it.

Bill Cosby arrives for his sexual assault trial in Norristown.
Bill Cosby arrives for his sexual assault trial in Norristown.Read moreJOSE MORENO / Staff Photographer

The sexual-assault allegation that brought down iconic entertainer Bill Cosby started at Temple University when his accuser worked there and he served on its board of trustees.

And his conviction Thursday on charges of drugging and assaulting that former employee, Andrea Constand, clearly shook leaders of the North Philadelphia campus.

For years, while other colleges and universities rescinded Cosby's honorary degrees in the wake of sexual-assault allegations, Temple, his alma mater, did not.

Within minutes of the verdict, the university issued a statement saying that it would reconsider Cosby's honorary degree and that the chairman of its board of trustees, Patrick O'Connor, would recuse himself from the discussion.

O'Connor, a lawyer and vice chairman of the Cozen O'Connor law firm, had represented Cosby in 2005 against Constand's sexual-assault claims and has faced criticism for it. Both O'Connor and Cosby served on the Temple board at the time.

"Temple University respects today's decision reached by the jury in the Bill Cosby case," university spokesman Ray Betzner said. "Today's decision provides additional facts for the university to consider with respect to Bill Cosby's honorary degree."

Betzner said he had no information on when the discussion would be held.

Reached Thursday, O'Connor declined comment on the verdict. When Cosby's previous trial last June resulted in a deadlocked jury, O'Connor said he respected the process.

"I think the integrity of the jury system is good," O'Connor said at the time. "I think it worked in this instance. And it will continue to work."

At least 15 institutions already had rescinded Cosby's degrees. They are: the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel UniversitySwarthmore College, Muhlenberg College, Franklin & Marshall College, Lehigh University, Wilkes University, the University of Pittsburgh, Brown University, Tufts University, Goucher College, Fordham University, Marquette University, Baylor University, and the University of San Francisco.

In Pittsburgh on Thursday, Carnegie Mellon University wasted no time adding its name to the list, revoking Cosby's honorary degree. In a statement, the university said it "will not tolerate sexual violence, intimate partner violence, stalking or sexual harassment. These acts are against the law and violate our core values. In order to fulfill that commitment and in light of Bill Cosby's criminal conviction for aggravated indecent assault, Carnegie Mellon University has decided to revoke an honorary degree it awarded to Mr. Cosby in 2007."

But Temple has resisted, despite calls from within and outside its walls.

Among those who had expressed concern, Art Hochner, former president of the faculty union, was relieved to hear the verdict and said he hopes Temple will withdraw the degree.

"Finally, some justice for Andrea Constand," said Hochner, an associate professor of human resources management who retired in December.

"I hope they're embarrassed at not distancing themselves from his behavior," Hochner said of the board, "for not taking seriously what Cosby engaged in, and that Chairman O'Connor rethinks his stance of supporting a perpetrator of sexual assault."

The university has had a long history with Cosby, who graduated from the school in 1971 and joined its board of trustees in 1982. He's a longtime benefactor and has long been identified with Temple. He wore Temple sweatshirts and hung Temple flags on the set of The Cosby Show and for years had been a popular speaker at university commencements.

As the allegations unfolded and more women came forward, Temple began to distance itself. In December 2014, the embattled comedian left the Temple trustees board after more than a dozen women had accused him of sexual misconduct. In spring 2015, the university announced that Cosby would not appear at commencement as he had done for years.

As recently as this spring, Cosby's connection to Temple had caused consternation on campus, with a group of students, the Temple Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, complaining that a campus plaza had been named for O'Connor. The group cited O'Connor's representation of Cosby against Constand, who had served as operations director of the Temple women's basketball team.

"Obviously we think it's great that [Cosby is] being held accountable," said Martha Sherman, 22, a Temple senior and lead member of the alliance.

But she said she still would like O'Connor to step down from the board and for the university to offer more support and resources for victims of sexual assault. She said the university should waste no more time before rescinding Cosby's honorary degree.

"I would love to see Temple sever their ties completely with Bill Cosby," said Sherman, a public health and political science major from Ashford, Conn. "Supporting him for so long is indicative of a larger problem — that they don't care about survivors of sexual assault."

Other students seemed less concerned about the impact of the verdict on Temple.

"I've never seen a lot of people talk about him," Tyler Meyers, 19, a prelaw student from the Allentown area, said of Cosby. "He's definitely very notable and people obviously know he went here, but nobody is, like, ashamed going to this school because of him."

Staff writer Tommy Rowan contributed to this report.