Pennsylvania authorities in late December filed criminal charges of felony indecent assault against Bill Cosby in regard to an incident involving a former employee of Temple University. While many women have publicly accused the comedian of raping them, most of the allegations involve interactions for which statutes of limitations have expired. Pennsylvania, however, has a longer statute of limitations, so prosecutors were free to charge him -- at least before the new year.
Cosby is a Temple alumnus and longtime donor and trustee (although he quit that position amid the recent scandal). The victim in the case, Andrea Constand (who has spoken out about her charges), formerly was director of operations for Temple's women's basketball team. She met Cosby several times between 2001 and 2004, and she said Cosby contacted her at her office to discuss university-related matters. The statement with the charges said they met several times, and that she considered Cosby, 37 years older, to be a friend and a mentor.
The accusations largely stem from an incident in early 2004 in which Constand said she went to Cosby's home, at his invitation, to talk about her career. She said that Cosby gave her pills and wine and told her to relax and take the pills. She then remembers feeling "blurry" and "nauseous" and being unable to move, and that Cosby fondled her, penetrated her vagina with his fingers and put her hands on his penis. She says that she did not consent to any of these activities, but was unable to move much after taking the pills.
Constand reported the case in 2005 to authorities, who investigated. At that time, county officials said, Cosby described the encounter as consensual, but admitted to giving Constand one and one-half pills.
At that time, authorities did not charge Cosby, but the case was reopened after reports of affidavits in which he admitted to giving women pills and then having sex with them.
Many colleges this fall have revoked honorary degrees they awarded years ago to Cosby, who for decades was a popular comedian and philanthropist and a regular on the college commencement speaking circuit. For some colleges, this was the first time they revoked an honorary degree.
Temple, however, has resisted calls that it do so. In December, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution calling on the university to revoke the degree it gave Cosby. The resolution also condemned Patrick O'Connor, Temple's board chair, for representing Cosby 10 years ago when he was sued by a woman. Faculty leaders said it was a conflict of interest for O'Connor to represent Cosby when both were on the board together, potentially making it unlikely that the board would rethink its ties to Cosby.
In December, a Temple spokesman, Ray Betzner, suggested to The Philadelphia Inquirer that the resolution did not reflect the views of all professors. "With fewer than 40 faculty attending, many of whom were not elected representative senators, it raises questions about whether the resolutions passed can be considered representative of the opinions of a significant portion of the more than 2,000 full-time Temple faculty," he said.
In an email to Inside Higher Ed shortly after the charges against Cosby were announced Wednesday, Betzner said that Temple had no comment at this time.
Renewed Calls for Temple U to Act
The charges led to renewed calls for Temple to revoke Cosby's honorary degree.
"We don't understand why the Board of Trustees and administration haven't faced the issues squarely. Sexual assault on campus is a real issue, Temple has a policy about it, and even trustees have been subject to it," said Art Hochner, president of the faculty union, the Temple Association of University Professionals, which is part of the American Federation of Teachers. "We hope that justice is done in this case and that Temple's leaders will finally take the actions that the members of the Faculty Senate recommended."
UltraViolet, a women's rights organization, issued a statement asking about Temple's responsibilities to respond to the accusations.
"Bill Cosby still holds an honorary degree from Temple University -- the same university where he is being charged for drugging and fondling a former employee," says the statement. "And Patrick O'Connor, who previously served as Cosby's lawyer defending him against rape allegations, continues to serve as chairman of Temple University's Board of Trustees. Despite a clear conflict of interest, the university continues to have a relationship with both Cosby and O’Connor. This is outrageous. Instead of continuing to support an accused abuser, Temple should stop ignoring sexual assault by cutting all ties with Cosby and revok[ing] his degree."
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