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Cosby philanthropy under scrutiny


Comedian Bill Cosby, appearing at Temple University's commencement in Philadelphia in 2011 (AP)

Comedian Bill Cosby, appearing at Temple University's commencement in Philadelphia in 2011 (AP)

Comedian Bill Cosby, appearing at Temple University's commencement in Philadelphia in 2011 (AP)

US comedian and actor Bill Cosby's record of big donations to colleges and other institutions has been a key part of his rosy public image - but the rising tide of allegations made by women accusing him of sexual assault is threatening to overshadow his generosity.

North Carolina's High Point University has removed the 77-year-old entertainer from its National Board of Advisers, a panel that includes retired General Colin Powell.

The university referred to Cosby as "one of the most influential performers of our time" when it announced his appointment last July.

The Berklee College of Music said in a statement on Monday that it is "no longer awarding an online scholarship in Mr Cosby's name". The college has no further comment at this time.

No institutions have publicly renounced any of the tens of millions of dollars that Cosby and his wife, Camille, have given over the years, or rejected new donations.

"I don't want to belittle the implications of the accusations, but nothing has been proven and he has not been charged," said Michael Chatman, a philanthropy expert and founder of a speakers' bureau on the field.

Recipients of Cosby largesse are likely to adopt a wait-and-see attitude because of that, he said.

If there was to be a verdict in a criminal or civil case, "I think you would see a devastating effect in terms of his philanthropic and charitable legacy," Mr Chatman added.

It is unlikely an institution would return a donation, he said, but new recipients could be expected to carefully weigh the implications of accepting money.

There was no response from Cosby's publicist to a request for comment. His attorney, Martin Singer, has called the growing number of sexual assault allegations "unsubstantiated" and "discredited", and accused the media of vilifying the actor and comedian once known as "America's dad" for his role as a loving patriarch on the hit sitcom The Cosby Show.

Cosby's legacy of giving is decades-old and extensive, topped by a 20 million dollar (£12.7 million) gift to Spelman College in 1988 and including, among many other donations, three million dollars (£1.9 million) to the Morehouse School of Medicine; one million dollars (£638,000) in 2004 to the US National Slavery Museum in Fredericksburg, Virginia; and two million dollars (£1.2 million) from Cosby's wife, Camille, to the St Frances Academy in Baltimore in 2005.

According to Internal Revenue Service filings, more than 800,000 dollars (£510,000) in scholarship grants were given through the William and Camille Cosby Foundation from July 2000 to June 2013.

Earlier this month, the Cosbys loaned works from their extensive collection of African-American art to the Smithsonian Institution for an exhibition.

There have been no discussions about any changes surrounding Cosby's gift to Spelman, the women's college in Georgia, according to Audrey Arthur, spokeswoman for Spelman.

At the time, it was the largest donation ever by a black donor to a historically black college, which later established an academic centre named for Camille Cosby and an endowed professorship for visiting scholars in Bill Cosby's name.

A recent report on donations to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where Cosby received his doctorate, indicates Bill and Camille Cosby have given the school between 250,000 dollars (£159,000) and 499,999 dollars (£319,000).

Cosby also gave a benefit performance in 2004 that raised 1.5 million dollars (£957,000) for Amherst, and last year was named an honorary co-chair of the school's 300 million dollar (£191 million) fundraising campaign.

Cosby's status with the campaign has not changed, the university said.

Temple University said Bill Cosby remains a trustee of the Philadelphia institution, a position he has held since 1982. He is considered its most famous alumnus and has often spoken at commencement, drawing huge cheers.

A Temple spokesman confirmed the campus has no buildings named for Cosby but does offer a 3,000 dollar (£1,914) science scholarship named for Cosby and his wife. He declined to comment any further on Cosby's philanthropy.

In 2006, Cosby settled a lawsuit filed by a former Temple employee who alleged he drugged and fondled her at his suburban Philadelphia mansion.

Cosby was represented by Patrick O'Connor, chairman of Temple's board of trustees.