Atlanta’s Spelman College ends professorship tied to Bill Cosby

3:41 p.m Saturday, July 25, 2015 Local
Actor Bill Cosby performs at the King Center for the Performing Arts in Melbourne, Fla., on November 21, 2014. (Gerardo Mora/Getty Images)

Atlanta’s Spelman College confirmed that it has canceled a professorship associated with Bill Cosby and returned the money.

The action occurred in the wake of documents obtained by the Associated Press and the New York Times in which Cosby detailed his provision of drugs to young women with whom he wanted to have sex. Cosby has denied wrongdoing.

The Cosbys’ association with Spelman has been one of their longest, most generous, and perhaps the most prestigious.

Two Cosby daughters attended Spelman. Their parents Camille and Bill Cosby donated $20 million to the college in the late 1980’s. At the time it was the largest ever personal gift to a historically black college or university. The family’s money helped fund a new academic center housing state-of-the art classrooms, labs and a fine arts museum; as well as the endowed professorship.

The college this weekend would not comment on how much money was associated specifically with the professsorship.

Unlike with one-time capital purchases such as a new building, endowments typically take a large sum of money and invest it. That way the investment profits can keep coming year after year, continuing to pay for an ongoing expense like a professor’s salary.

More than 40 women have now accused Bill Cosby of rape or a sexual violation, often accompanied by sedation. But the incidents occurred several years ago and lacked forensic proof. As public figures and institutions ceased ties and disavowed the comedian over the last year, Spelman mostly held fast.

Students at the women’s college have voiced deep ambivalence about the accusations, citing their strong attachment to women’s rights, but also to due process and the dignified public image portrayed by Cosby and his characters.

Last November as accusations rolled in, the Berklee College of Music removed Cosby’s name from a scholarship, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst said Cosby would leave a $300 million fundraising campaign, of which he was honorary co-chair. Not Spelman.

It hasn’t been easy for institutions to decide when a rich donor’s reputation is tainted enough to make it worth it to cut ties. Other potential donors are likely watching to see how loyal they are in dark times; though some are also watching to see how committed they are to supporting women’s safety.

U Mass Amherst, where Bill Cosby received a doctorate, moved only following a scolding letter from the state’s attorney general, according to the Boston Globe.

At Temple University, when an online petition posted by an alum started to go viral, the school on December 1 announced Cosby would step down from its board of trustees.

Much of the media coverage at the time noted that Spelman wasn’t budging.

Two weeks later Spelman announced that it had suspended — but not ended — its professorship.

That halfway stance changed after reporters this month obtained a deposition from 2005. In it, Cosby himself admitted that he obtained quaaludes to give women with whom he intended to have sex.

Cosby’s lawyers have said Cosby’s words in the deposition are being misinterpreted.

The Spelman professorship is the William and Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Endowed Professorship, according to Spelman spokeswoman Audrey Arthur, and the money for it has been returned to the Clara Elizabeth Jackson Carter Foundation. The foundation was established by Bill Cosby’s wife, Camille, in honor of her mother.

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