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Howard retracts Diddy’s honorary degree, ends $2 million in agreements following 2016 assault video 

The university’s decision to cut ties with Sean “Diddy” Combs is the latest development in a series of allegations and lawsuits against the rapper and businessman.

Sean “Diddy” Combs performs at Howard’s October 2023 Homecoming, weeks before the rapper’s ex-girlfriend, Casandra “Cassie” Ventura, filed a lawsuit against him. (Keith Golden Jr./The Hilltop)

Howard University’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously Friday to rescind Sean “Diddy” Combs’ honorary degree, terminate long-term relationships made with the rap artist and businessman and return his $1 million donation.

The board also voted on June 7 to terminate a 2023 pledge agreement worth $1 million that was never fulfilled by the Sean Combs Foundation, according to a university statement sent to The Hilltop.

The university said it will “accept the return by Mr. Sean Combs of the honorary degree” and revoke “all honors and privileges” associated with Combs’ 2014 Doctor of Humanities honorary degree, which includes being invited to participate in special events and occasions. 

“Mr. Combs’ behavior, as captured in a recently released video, is so fundamentally incompatible with Howard University’s core values and beliefs that he is deemed no longer worthy to hold the institution’s highest honor,” the statement said about Combs’ honorary degree while referencing a 2016 hotel surveillance video in which Combs assaulted then-girlfriend Casandra “Cassie” Ventura. 

The decisions follow a series of lawsuits and sexual assault allegations against Combs that emerged after Ventura filed a federal lawsuit last November, describing years of abuse. Combs paid $30 million to settle. 

Following the hotel footage release, Combs posted an apology video to his Instagram page on May 19, in which he said he was “disgusted” by his actions.

Last October, Howard’s Vice President of Development and Alumni Relations David Bennett told The Hilltop that Combs “fully honored every public pledge of support” he made to Howard, which “includes both public pledges to donate to Howard University, each for $1 million.”

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Howard’s statement said in reference to an agreement with the Sean Combs Foundation that, “No payments toward the $1 million pledge have been due or made by the Sean Combs Foundation” as of June 7. 

Bennett did not respond to a question about the inconsistency between his comments and Howard’s statement. 

The $1 million that Howard will return was donated in 2016 and used to fund a scholarship program in Combs’ name.

Jay Jones, senior political science major and HUSA president, said the board’s decision to sever ties with Combs showed “a very strong stance that we always have had against sexual violence.” 

She added, “I’m glad that the Board of Trustees was able to make a sound and very effective decision without there being any need for student representation.”

Jones said HUSA had no ties to Combs or anything related to him and that her administration was not included in the decision-making process to sever ties. 

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Some on The Hilltop’s Instagram post commented that Howard should have kept the $1 million scholarship contribution.

“I say keep the money and lower my tuition,” one user said. “Do what you will with everything else.”

Jones, however, said Howard has different ways to fund and revise scholarships. “We’re constantly thinking of and creating new ways to be able to support,” she said. 

Joshua John-Louis, a senior music education major from Houston and a former HUSA senator, thinks there is “validity” in some people’s arguments that Howard should keep the $1 million. 

“But ultimately,” he said, “I believe that that is a gift, that is a promise from a man who completely exercised the opposite of the values and the ideas and the morals of Howard University.”

Howard gave out more than $149 million in institutional grants for the 2022 to 2023 school year, which includes endowed scholarships and tuition-funded grants, according to the university’s institutional data. The Howard website says that this past school year, the estimated undergraduate on-campus cost of attendance was $59,288, with off-campus being about $10,000 more.

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Combs attended Howard from fall 1987 to spring 1989, according to university records.

This is an ongoing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

Copy edited by Jalyn Lovelady

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