Dear Members of the Brown Community,

At Commencement in May 1985, Brown University conferred upon Bill Cosby an honorary doctorate of humane letters. Dating back to the first Commencement in 1769, the Board of Fellows of the Brown Corporation has bestowed honorary degrees upon individuals of distinction and accomplishment, recognizing their leadership and contribution to society in a myriad of fields and disciplines. Honorary degree candidates are selected for both their renown and the reflection in their life and in their work of the values and mission of Brown as an academic community.

In receiving that degree, Mr. Cosby was specifically honored in the citation for his “ability to integrate [his] personal character into fictional personae that simulate real life while embracing such cherished American values as honesty, fair play, love of family, and respect for humanity.” These are values that the Brown community holds dear and to which we consistently aspire to attain and exceed in our individual and collective lives.

It has become clear, by his own admission in legal depositions that became public this summer, that Mr. Cosby has engaged in conduct with women that is contrary to the values of Brown and the qualities for which he was honored by the University in 1985. On Friday, September 25th, the University’s Board of Fellows held its first regularly scheduled meeting since that information became available. The Fellows deliberated and determined to revoke and rescind the honorary doctorate conferred upon Bill Cosby by Brown University.

Revoking any degree from this university, honorary or earned, is a serious matter, and the Fellows did not take such action lightly. The principles upon which such a determination is made for an honorary degree include an assessment of the facts and circumstances of the individual situation, and a judgment regarding (1) whether or not the conduct of the honorary degree recipient is grossly inconsistent with the values of Brown and (2) does the conduct run counter to or undermine the accomplishments that were cited as the basis for awarding the honorary degree. Although a consideration of these two questions will inform the Fellows’ decision-making, a decision to revoke a degree does not require that both questions are answered in the affirmative.

In this case these criteria have clearly been met. The conduct that Mr. Cosby has acknowledged is wholly inconsistent with the behavior we expect of any individual associated with Brown. It is particularly troubling as our university community continues to confront the very real challenges of sexual violence on our campus and in society at large, and had it been known to the Fellows in 1985, an honorary degree lauding the qualities quoted above would not have been conferred.

I expect and understand that not all members of the Brown community will agree with this decision. The Board of Fellows, of which I am a member, felt strongly that this was an appropriate action to take in these specific circumstances, and that doing so was in the best interest of the University, its values and mission.


Christina Paxson