As universities break ties with Cosby, Temple does not

Posted: November 30, 2014

Several universities, most recently the University of Massachusetts Amherst, have cut ties with Bill Cosby over allegations that he sexually assaulted women, but Temple isn't one of them.

University spokesman Ray Betzner repeated Friday that Cosby, 77, a Philadelphia native who attended Temple, remains a member of its board of trustees, a post he has held since 1982.

But calls are increasing for the Philadelphia university to take another look at its beloved benefactor and longtime public face, a man who for decades has worn Temple sweatshirts proudly and who featured the school flag on episodes of The Cosby Show.

A change.org petition started by Kerry Potter McCormick, a Manhattan lawyer and 2005 graduate, calls on Temple to sever ties with Cosby, who has been accused over a period of years by 20 women - at least 10 by name - many of whom contend he drugged them.

McCormick pointed out that Temple is one of dozens of colleges nationally under scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Education for its handling of sexual assault complaints.

"You're under investigation, and you're having an alleged serial rapist continue to sit on your board of trustees," said McCormick, 31, whose petition has drawn more than 800 signatures. "That's outrageous."

Kristen Houser, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, said Temple was making "a terrible PR move."

"I don't think it's sending a message to the students that the university takes the issue of sexual assault seriously or even understands it," she said.

And writing in the Temple News this month, undergraduate Grace Holleran called for the university to voice its displeasure with its most famous cheerleader.

"Temple seems to be banking on Cosby's star power, remembering him for his colorful sweaters and Pudding Pops as it fails to acknowledge his muddy backstory," she wrote.

Patrick O'Connor, chairman of Temple's board of trustees, has not responded to repeated phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.

The vice chair of the Cozen O'Connor law firm represented Cosby in 2005 when his fellow trustee was accused of drugging and assaulting Andrea Constand, a former Temple employee. Thirteen more women had agreed to testify in the case, which was settled.

O'Connor told the Philadelphia Daily News at the time that "what is occurring here is innuendo, false rumor, [and] unidentified witnesses attacking the credibility of a man who's entitled to a fair trial like any other person in America."

Two ethics experts said O'Connor probably should recuse himself from any board discussion about Cosby.

"It would certainly be wise not to participate," said Geoffrey C. Hazard Jr., an emeritus professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Hastings College School of Law in San Francisco, "because they have had a previous professional relationship."

There has been no discussion among the 36-member board - three of whom are women - about Cosby, nor is one scheduled, according to several trustees.

Some trustees - including lawyer Leonard Barrack, Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Theodore A. McKee, and, most recently, lawyer Robert Rovner - have said they would not favor removing Cosby, whom the board reappointed in October.

Rovner said he did not know whether the allegations were true, but "in America, people are innocent until proven guilty. I'll give my friend Bill Cosby the benefit of the doubt."

Rovner, an ex-officio trustee, said Cosby, who has spoken at fund-raisers for Temple athletes and has addressed graduates at Temple commencements for years, had served as a role model to the student body and the city.

"So therefore, I would not throw him under the bus," Rovner said. "I have mixed emotions because I do have feelings for any of the women who made accusations, but on the other hand, there are two sides to every story. Some of them made accusations 15 to 20 years later. Some of them may have tried to use Bill Cosby to get into show business."

George Parry, a Philadelphia lawyer who has a long history as prosecutor and defense lawyer, doubted there was much percentage in the women lying.

"Being notorious as a rape victim is not something I would expect a woman to want," he said. "The statute of limitations on any legal claim ran out years ago for the women who are complaining. So I really don't see a viable motive for these women to be lying. They certainly are all telling pretty much the same story about Mr. Cosby's behavior.

"For what it's worth, my assessment is that if I were prosecuting the case, based on their testimony, I would go ahead with it."

Among Cosby's accusers are Joan Tarshis, a former actress; Janice Dickerson, a former supermodel; Kristina Ruehli, now a 71-year-old grandmother; Carla Ferrigno, wife of actor Lou Ferrigno; Angela Leslie, an actress and model; Barbara Bowman, who wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post; and Tamara Green, a lawyer and former model.

Constand took her case to civil court after the Montgomery County district attorney decided not to prosecute. She was working for Temple's athletic department when she met Cosby, and told police Cosby invited her to his Cheltenham estate in 2004 to offer career advice. He gave her a pill, she alleged, and groped her while she felt too groggy to resist.

Many Temple trustees, including Inquirer owner H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, declined to comment or did not return calls. Mayor Nutter, an ex-officio trustee, said it was up to the board and Temple president Neil D. Theobald to respond to the allegations. Theobald declined to comment.

McCormick said she was disappointed in Temple, especially given other action on Cosby in recent days.

NBC canceled a proposed family-oriented Cosby sitcom, and Netflix pulled back from a stand-up special on Thanksgiving.

UMass last week asked Cosby, an alumnus, to step down as honorary cochair of the school's capital campaign, and he did, the university told the Boston Globe.

Berklee College of Music in Boston has removed Cosby's name from an online scholarship, the newspaper reported. High Point University in North Carolina temporarily removed Cosby from its advisory board and Freed-Hardeman University in Tennessee last week canceled his appearance at a fund-raiser, according to news accounts.

"Temple should have been the first to act on this," McCormick said. "Temple shouldn't be the last. Eighteen, 19, 20 allegations are sufficient to ask one of your trustees to step down. If Cosby cares about the Temple community, I don't know why he isn't stepping down."

The university soon will have to face whether to include Cosby in its 2015 commencement. Betzner, the Temple spokesman, said planning had just begun.


ssnyder@phillynews.com

215-854-4693 @ssnyderinq

www.inquirer.com/campusinq

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