Normalizing Rape Culture: Cosby's Former Lawyer as Temple University Japan Graduation Commenceme
Photo courtesy of Temple University, Japan Campus Facebook Page
Temple University Japan's (TUJ) commencement ceremony for the graduating class of 2018 was held on June 3rd. Despite being an event which is meant to bring joy and celebration to all, there were some disconcerting aspects. TUJ’s keynote speaker of choice: current Chairman of the Temple University Board of Trustees and Bill Cosby’s former lawyer, Mr. Patrick J. O’Connor.
The decision to have O'Connor as commencement speaker is ultimately a normalization of rape culture and contradictory to the efforts TUJ has made in combating sexual violence. Having the previous lawyer of a man convicted on three counts of sexual assault is choosing the side of the abuser by continuing to give power to individuals who have contributed to the silencing of survivors.
The following was the introduction to O’Connor, given by the Dean of TUJ, Bruce Stronach at graduation:
“To deliver our keynote address, it is my great pleasure to introduce a man who besides being one of Temple’s most generous benefactors, has played a significant role over the past 47 years in Temple’s development into a world class university. [...] and current Chair of the Temple University Board of Trustees, [...]. In addition to graduating magna cum laude from King’s College with a BA degree and a law degree from Villanova, Mr. O’Connor has received several honorary degrees, including from Temple University and Villanova University in 2013, and an Honorary Doctorate from King’s College in 2014. Please show our appreciation, by giving Mr. O’Connor a great TUJ welcome.”
Although O’Connor’s academic achievements are evident from the introduction, Dean Stronach failed to mention what O’Connor is primarily known for at Temple University and beyond: he was the close friend and lawyer of Bill Cosby in a 2005 sexual assault case. The victim was a Temple employee three decades his junior, Andrea Constand. This was also the trial where Cosby infamously admitted to using quaaludes to drug women before raping them. O’Connor has long stood by Cosby, in a 2014 statement he remarked, “I know Bill. I don’t question his character at all. But these are his personal issues; he has to deal with them.” He later said in regards to Cosby’s mistrial in 2017, “I think the integrity of the jury system is good… I think it worked in this instance. And it will continue to work,” continuing to take the stance he had taken for years regarding Cosby’s then legally presumed innocence.
Being students at Temple University Japan and coming from diverse backgrounds, many in attendance did not know who this man was at the time of his speech, and still do not know following it. We decided to ask some students for their opinion on having O’Connor as their keynote speaker:
“I feel sad and disappointed with the school. The commencement should’ve been a day where students feel more educated, but now I feel even more ignorant.”
In an anonymous statement to UPRIZINE, a female psychology major and 2018 graduate, “I feel sad and disappointed with the school. The commencement should’ve been a day where students feel more educated, but now I feel even more ignorant.”
Communications major and recent graduate of TUJ, Dave Cortez, stated in a comment to UPRIZINE, “it also makes you wonder how his colleagues on the board of trustees did not also find his decisions morally reprehensible and pressure him to make a public apology if not resign. As a Temple graduate from the Japan campus, do I wish that we had a person of much higher moral character delivering a speech to us than Mr. O'Connor? Absolutely.”
News outlets including Temple Main’s school paper, The Temple News, as well as local papers in Philadelphia have reported on groups calling for the Chairman’s resignation from the Board of Trustees in numerous articles. This outcry has been in response to his involvement in the Cosby case. There has been much backlash by activists and student organizations at Temple Main against O’Connor.
Chair of the Temple University Board of Trustees and former Bill Cosby lawyer, Patrick O'Connor. Photo by Temple University Japan, Commencement 2018.
It was for these reasons UPRIZINE decided to contact Dean Stronach for an official comment as to why TUJ picked O’Connor to deliver the speech. His reply is as follows:
“Both President Englert and I felt this was also an excellent opportunity to have him speak to Japan Campus graduates as someone who has given much of his life creating educational opportunities for Temple students.
Chairman O’Connor has for over 40 years put his time and money to work for students who have been marginalized and left out of meaningful educational opportunities. He has funded scholarships, activities and campus improvements, and has led the university’s commitment to providing students with enhanced programs and services.
He has been very supportive of TUJ's development, and especially its partnering program with Showa Women's U. He has also been instrumental in developing programs such as Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s ‘It’s On Us’ grant to combat sexual misconduct on its campuses. Last year’s grant allowed Temple to enhance programming on the main campus. This year we will expand the successes of the first grant to support efforts at TUJ. Given the above we thought it more than fitting for Chairman O'Connor to give the TUJ Commencement keynote.”
Choosing O’Connor as the commencement speaker is contradictory to the conscious efforts TUJ has made over the past two semesters in combating sexual assault. These concerns were raised by students over the institution’s lack of resources for survivors (more info here).
In December 2017, Dean Bruce Stronach sent out an information packet titled “Counseling Resources on Sexual Assault and Interpersonal Violence” to the TUJ undergraduate student body. In addition, TUJ updated its website (Student Services section and the Counseling Office tab) and added a previously non-existent section to its Student Handbook titled “Sexual Assault and Other Sexual Misconduct” that can be found on page 20.
On March 8th 2018, in celebration of International Women’s Day, UPRIZINE was given a booth at the public event “Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon,” (more info here) and handed out its first edition of hard-copy magazines, sponsored by TUJ. Later that month, TUJ’s Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies (ICAS) held a public lecture titled, “Sex Crimes and the Law in Japan.”
Then came April: Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Temple University’s Title IX Coordinator, Andrea Seiss, flew all the way to Tokyo from Philadelphia. She held workshops on Title IX and compliance for the faculty, staff, and students of TUJ (more info here).
While Seiss was at TUJ, she also moderated a talk given by Shiori Ito, a journalist, documentary filmmaker, writer, and rape survivor, who came to TUJ to speak to students about her personal experience navigating the Japanese legal system (more info here). Alistair Howard’s (Associate Dean at the time) opening remarks to the event can also be found up on UPRIZINE.
And yet the institution welcomed a man who assisted in the silencing of rape survivors. Why is Temple University and TUJ normalizing rape culture?
In light of these past months’ improvements to both TUJ’s system in handling assault and in addressing women’s issues in Japan, Dean Stronach’s words of “please show our appreciation, by giving Mr. O’Connor a great TUJ welcome” in retrospect, are quite frankly shocking. TUJ has admitted to its shortcomings and in recent months, has claimed to have “take[n] sexual assault very seriously.” And yet the institution welcomed a man who assisted in the silencing of rape survivors. Why is Temple University and TUJ normalizing rape culture? Where is Temple University’s integrity as it was one of the last to pull Cosby’s Honorary Degree?
In a 2015 Philadelphia Inquirer article, the first time O’Connor spoke about the 2005 trial, “O'Connor, who has noted he is bound by a court confidentiality order, said Cosby had the right to counsel and that he had a right to do his job as a lawyer. ‘I have every right to make my living in that regard.’” Does this admittance of representing such a person for financial gain really echo the institution’s goals? Temple University’s mission statement includes the line: “Temple seeks to create new knowledge that improves the human condition and uplifts the human spirit.” How is maintaining this man’s position as Chairman contributing to the improvement of the human condition, let alone the uplifting of the human spirit?
In this same 2015 article, “Art Hochner, a business professor and president of the 1,400-member faculty union, said the university has an obligation to address the allegations against Cosby. Whether Cosby is guilty of a crime or not, Hochner said, ‘it's just a big black mark on his integrity and by extension, by association, on Temple University's integrity. They defended him instead of protecting an employee [during the 2005 case].’” The institution is obligated to address the allegations and also the issue of keeping O’Connor as Chairman. However, O’Connor was awarded the role of commencement speaker to a room full of members of TUJ’s community, many of which were oblivious to his background.
By awarding Patrick O’Connor the position of commencement speaker at this year’s graduation ceremony, Dean Bruce Stronach, Temple University, and Temple University Japan made at best, an error in judgment. At worst, they made a bold statement on where they truly stand regarding sexual violence. It is an undeniable reality that sexual assault and violence are becoming an increasing issue in the U.S. and Japan, on and off campus. It is hard to view this decision as anything but a setback and a normalization of rape culture.
Despite his role as Cosby’s lawyer, O’Connor was given the platform to speak in front of students in Japan. At main campus, where marches against assault and on-campus activism occur more frequently, it is questionable as to whether O’Connor would have been awarded the same privilege and given the same warm welcome he received in Japan. Even though we are a smaller institution, TUJ must be held to the same standards as Temple University.