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Temple board meets, Bill Cosby not mentioned, chair calls board ‘very diverse’

Just moments before Temple University’s board chair asserted to a pair of reporters (Billy Penn and the Temple News) that the group of school leaders is “diverse,” those board members posed for the above photo.

Why is this relevant? The board has come under criticism for weeks as a firestorm grew over its most famous trustee, Bill Cosby, who resigned on Dec. 1. The resignation came after 20 women made well-publicized allegations of sexual assault against the comedian and members of the Temple community made calls for the school to sever its ties with him, and as the board prepared to meet to decide his fate.

Cosby, who is 77, was very clearly Temple’s most recognized, most famous board member; a frequent ambassador for the University, he’s sent more than 40 students through school here, and two scholarships bear his name. And yet Temple’s full board met today with no mention of Cosby, other than what could have been an oblique reference made by school President Neil Theobald. In his report to the board, the president said the school’s dedication to preventing and dealing with sexual assault has come into question over the last several weeks, but he said Temple is “committed” to finding ways to better tailor policy to support victims of sexual violence. Cosby was not named.

Following the board meeting, board Chairman Patrick O’Connor, vice-chair of the Center City law firm Cozen O’Connor, said the university will replace Cosby on the board through an election process and has already identified several people who could take his place. But there’s no word on who those people are.

O’Connor fell under scrutiny this week when Philadelphia Magazine published a story about the gender make-up of the board, showing that of 35 members of the board, there are three women, and none of the eight honorary life trustees are women.

The chairman was quoted in the story as telling a Philly Mag reporter “I’m tired of this shit!” and “If Temple is the lowest [in the region] with one-eighth, I can live with that.” O’Connor apologized today for his remarks, but said his comments weren’t accurately reflected.

“He thought we were a group of 50 trustees, and I thought anyone doing basic research would have understood we were 36, and would have understood we only have 24 appointments,” he said, noting that “we’re a very diverse board and we’ll continue to become more diverse.”

In doing so, O’Connor mischaracterized journalist Victor Fiorillo’s reporting; Fiorillo noted to O’Connor that Temple had 36 trustees, 24 of which were appointed.

When asked if Temple will look to replace Cosby with a woman, O’Connor deflected, saying only that “we’re always looking for great women.”

“Look, I was raised by a woman in the 50s. Need I say more?” he continued. “We get the best people, and sometimes we’re perceived not to do the best we should do, but we try hard here, and we try to be fair.”

He was then cut off by Temple Assistant Vice President for University Communications Ray Betzner, who said, “Thank you, Mr. Chairman,” and shuffled O’Connor away.

These interactions, along with the group photo, came after Temple’s full board meeting which welcomed two new members. One is Drew Katz, who was elected by Temple to serve in place of his father, Lewis Katz, the former Inquirer owner who was killed in June in a plane crash.

The other was Samuel Smith, the former state Speaker of the House who nominated himself to serve on Temple’s board. He was elected unanimously.

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