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Do not be too hasty to pull Cosby’s degree

| Wednesday, February 24, 2016

I would like to suggest a simple solution to the question of Bill Cosby’s honorary degree. If there is ever a court finding, either civil or criminal, that determines Cosby engaged in behavior for which a Notre Dame employee would be fired or a student expelled, then it would be appropriate for the University to formally consider revoking the degree. Indeed, it may be difficult to justify not revoking it.

Until there is a court finding, however, revoking the degree would amount to declaring a man guilty based on a trial-by-news-media. Accepted standards like “beyond a reasonable doubt,” “preponderance of evidence” and the right to cross-examine would not be met.

As damaging and appalling as the deposition testimony is, there remain many gray-area questions to which we cannot know the answers. What else is in the parts of the deposition that were not released? What is the full story of what really happened? How much of it was consensual? Why did the original D.A. decide not to prosecute? Only a court would have access to all the information and be able to ensure American standards of fairness and justice are met. And what would we do if, in spite of everything, a court eventually determined Cosby is not guilty?

A decision to wait until there is a court finding would also provide the beginning of a policy framework for dealing with any future situations involving honorary degree recipients. It would set the bar high, but it would draw a very clear line so that, in the rare cases when the line is crossed, the University’s considered response could be both well-founded and defensible.

Peter Jeffery
Michael P. Grace II Professor of Medieval Studies
Feb. 19

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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