PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Comedian Bill Cosby has resigned from the board of trustees of Temple University, his alma mater said in a statement on Monday, after the entertainer was hit with a wave of sexual assault accusations.
More than a dozen women have come forward in the past few weeks with accusations that Cosby, 77, sexually assaulted them as far back as the 1960s.
Patrick O’Connor, chairman of the Philadelphia university’s board of trustees, said Cosby called him on Monday to resign.
“He didn’t want his personal issue to detract from his service to Temple,” O’Connor said in a phone interview. “He was a great trustee. I thanked him for his service.”
Cosby has never been charged, and his lawyers have said the assault claims were discredited and defamatory.
Cosby was proud of his education at Temple, where he discovered a gift for comedy that led to a successful career in stand-up and groundbreaking roles for an African-American actor in television series such as “I Spy” and “The Cosby Show.”
Cosby, who might be best known for his role as wholesome father Dr. Cliff Huxtable, used his position as one of the biggest stars on television to encourage young people, particularly in underprivileged African-American communities, to get out of poverty by earning an education.
The decision to leave Temple’s board comes after the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Berklee College of Music cut ties last week with the comedian, who had a reputation as a strong fundraiser. High Point University in North Carolina has also removed Cosby from its board of advisers.
Temple’s silence on the situation since the allegations came to light had raised uncomfortable questions for some students at the university.
O’Connor represented Cosby in a 2005 lawsuit brought by a Temple employee who accused the comedian of sexual assault. The case ended with a confidential settlement.
Grace Holleran, an opinion editor of the Temple student newspaper who wrote a column entitled “Stop Revering Cosby,” said the university should take a stronger stance against him and sexual misconduct.
“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,” Holleran said. “If the university stopped inviting him to university functions, that would make a loud statement.”
Temple has a long association with Cosby, who attended in 1961-1962 and earned his bachelor’s degree in 1971. Cosby, who is often seen wearing apparel adorned with the Temple logo, is a frequent visitor to the sprawling urban campus and often mentioned the school in his act.
The university has not disclosed how much money Cosby has given the school. His family funds two small scholarships at Temple, which has some 38,000 students.
In a statement released by the university Monday, Cosby said: “I have always been proud of my association with Temple University. I have always wanted to do what would be in the best interests of the university and its students.”
The comedian has refused to address questions about the allegations as more women have come forward, saying he forced himself on them sexually, with some accusing him of drugging them first.
While the statute of limitations means that alleged victims may never bring a case to court, the barrage of allegations have nevertheless caused serious damage to Cosby’s active career of late and plans to return to TV.
Two weeks ago, NBC and Netflix canceled planned projects with Cosby, while promoters have canceled some of the dates on his U.S. stand-up comedy tour.
Additional reporting by Eric Kelsey; Writing by Scott Malone and Mary Milliken; Editing by Richard Valdmanisl, Eric Walsh and Alan Crosby