Bill Cosby is sometimes referred to as Dr. Cosby because he has a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts of Amherst. He earned the degree in the mid 1970s — with a thesis titled “An Integration of the Visual Media Via Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (1972) into the Elementary School Curriculum as a Teaching Aid and Vehicle to Achieve Increased Learning” — but how he got the degree has been controversial ever since.
According to Michael Eric Dyson, a sociology professor at Georgetown University and an acclaimed author of “Is Bill Cosby Right?” and numerous other books:
[Cosby] dropped out of high school after he flunked the tenth grade three times. He enlisted in the Navy, where he got his GED, and then enrolled at Temple University, where he dropped out to pursue a show business career. His unfinished bachelor’s degree from Temple was eventually bestowed on him because of “life experience.” Cosby enrolled as a part-time doctoral student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, which awarded him the Ed.D. degree in 1977 for a dissertation on Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.
But not even that degree was unsullied by controversy: A professor who served on Cosby’s dissertation committee, Reginald Damerell, said that Cosby hardly took a class — and that he got course credit for appearing on Sesame Street and The Electric Company, “and wrote a dissertation that analyzed the impact of his show.”
Damerell’s claims came in his 1985 book called “Education’s Smoking Gun,” which was a strong critique of education schools. A University of Massachusetts associate professor who left after 12 years, Damerell wrote in his book about a program at UMass in which people already established in their fields could earn a doctorate by taking some course work, getting credit for their work experience and writing a thesis.
Cosby himself wrote that he was persuaded to join the program — after he got a master’s degree in education in 1972 — by a dean. He bought a 16-room farmhouse not too far from the Amherst campus and spent time in both California and Massachusetts in those years. Cosby had a flexible course schedule that allowed him to keep performing.
A 1985 story in People magazine about the book quoted Louis Fischer, acting dean of the University of Massachusetts School of Education when Cosby received his doctorate, as saying that Cosby’s thesis was “a very respectable piece of work” It also said:
Fischer adds that U. Mass. at the time was trying “to get away from the historic rigidities of schools of education” and that there were “at least 50 other students at that time who also received Ed.D. degrees through such nontraditional methods.”
Current university officials have not yet responded to questions about the program.
The dissertation, which was 142 pages of text and another hundred of footnotes and other material, discussed how educators could use Cosby-created animated television shows — “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” — to teach children in the classroom.
Cosby attended a ceremony in 1977 where he was awarded his degree, according to this People story.