“I have always been proud of my association with Temple University,” Cosby said, as The Washington Post’s Krissah Thompson reported. “I have always wanted to do what would be in the best interests of the university and its students. As a result, I have tendered my resignation from the Temple University Board of Trustees.”
These three sentences woefully understate the embattled comedian’s connection to an institution of higher learning located in a struggling Philadelphia community — a neighborhood once so troubled an urban planner who advocated brighter streetlights called it “the scary place.”
Universities love to associate themselves with famous names — and vice versa. But the bond between Cos and Temple was different. The comedian grew up in poverty in Philadelphia. Temple is the college that, before show business, offered a way out — a center of learning founded in 1888 not to serve the elite but, as its founder put it, “intended primarily for the benefit of Working Men.”
Indeed, Temple is not a fancy Ivy League university with a billion-dollar endowment on the radar of every straight-“A” student around the world. It’s more like a commuter school.
In 2012, its endowment was well south of $300 million, “well beneath the multi-billion dollar endowments of state-related counterparts Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh,” as the Temple News explained. In 2013, about 75 percent of its students were Pennsylvania residents. The average combined SAT score of incoming freshman was 1129. Its U.S. News and World Report ranking is 121 — and Cosby is mentioned in the blurb.
Nor is Temple’s North Philadelphia campus idyllic. This is a part of town Rocky Balboa, native of South Philadelphia, likely never visited. In 2010, the school was No. 2 on a list of the most dangerous colleges to go to. In September, “marauding teenage girls,” as Philadelphia’s 6ABC put it, smashed a student’s face with a brick.
“Mom just went crazy today,” Cosby told People in 1977 after earning his PhD from the University of Massachusetts. “She used to say, ‘Education’s a must. … If she was dead, she would have gotten up to come here today. Her tears mean so much.”
For a kid from Philadelphia whose mother was a maid, Temple was an attainable goal close to home. After a stint in the Navy, Cosby enrolled in 1961. He was a middling student and didn’t graduate. But even with “I Spy” on the horizon, his association with the school and his native city was close.
“I’m not interested in having a yacht and six Ferraris,” he told The Post in 1964. ” … I want to go back to Philadelphia and teach junior high in a lower-class section, as low as you can get.”
Even before he was a university trustee — even before he earned his Temple diploma, awarded in 1971 — Cosby was a Temple booster. He wore a Temple T-shirt on an album cover in 1965.
After Cosby joined Temple’s board of trustees in 1982, as The Post’s Valerie Strauss reported, he became even more of a Temple enthusiast. At the time, the school called him its “best-known alumnus” — and Cosby used his fame to boost his alma mater. Heathcliff Huxtable even had a Temple logo in his office. Skip ahead to 2:58 to check it out:
For Cosby, getting Temple’s name out there — whether on his show or in televised Temple Owls basketball games — was as important as fundraising. When people see the name, he said, they ask about it.
“Somebody answers: ‘That’s in Philadelphia,'” the comedian told The Post in 1988. “Before, they might not have gotten an answer.”
Cosby also became a regular commencement speaker. Here he is in 2010:
But, in the wake of the allegations — one leveled by a former Temple employee — against Cosby, his association with the school couldn’t last. Even the college paper wanted him out — and thinks a resignation isn’t enough.
“It would have been nice if Temple had booted him instead of him resigning, but I don’t think it’s too late for Temple to make a statement,” Grace Holleran, who wrote an opinion piece last month for the Temple News called “Stop Revering Bill Cosby,” told Reuters. “If the university stopped inviting him to university functions, that would make a loud statement.”
But that statement might not be forthcoming. The board of trustees did not seem happy about a storied connection now broken.
“He didn’t want his personal issue to detract from his service to Temple,” Patrick O’Connor, chairman of the board of trustees, told Reuters after Cosby called him to resign. “He was a great trustee. I thanked him for his service.”
Cosby continued silence about — and his attorney’s denials of — sexual assault allegations will shed no further light on why he has left Temple. But regardless of their truth, the charges have brought infamy to the comedian, to his hometown and to the university so closely identified with him.
“Dreams, dreams, dreams,” Cosby deadpanned to graduates wearing mortarboards at Temple’s 2012 commencement. “Wake up.”