When Bill Cosby arrived at UMass in the early 1970s, he was a blossoming comedic and television star, with his established show “I Spy” and “The Electric Company” about to sweep the country. He received his master’s in education in 1972 and his doctorate in 1976. His 142-page thesis was titled “An Integration of the Visual Media via Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids into the Elementary School Curriculum as a Teaching Aid and Vehicle to Achieve Increased Learning.” Today, he lives in Western Massachusetts. And if you think he’s done talking and teaching 40 years later, you don’t know The Cos.
“After I finished a performance at The Cage, the dean approached me and said the dean of the School of Education would like to talk to you.”
“I just felt very, very comfortable at UMass. It felt old and comfortable, but not beaten, but not wealthy, old money.”
“We sat. And I listened to the dean of education, Dwight Allen. He’s so bright, sometimes people don’t understand what he’s saying. He was telling me that he felt my work with ‘I Spy’ and whatever else I was doing, that the monologues, that they were in fact about education, so much so, that he liked the idea that I was doing these things on television, with the thought of TV not being a teacher, but an aid to help people think better about behavior. He asked, ‘Would you like to put this down on paper?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ ”
“I left Los Angeles and moved here, and we live here now. Working with [Associate Dean of Student and Alumni Affairs) Norma Jean Anderson, and many of the educators, I started working also with ‘The Electric Company,’ ‘Sesame Street’ people, and I applied that, along with Fat Albert, to writing and putting humor to basic behavior of these animated characters.”
“When I entered the University of Massachusetts, I just had a feeling that the School of Education was a step school, so to speak. They were doing things under Dwight Allen that were different. I remember two fellows who had done time in prison, who had gone on and earned I think two degrees. I knew they were working with lower-income city people. I know we also had a Japanese fellow, Bob Suzuki, who was the assistant dean of education. And Bob left to go on to become chancellor at California State Polytechnic Institute. We had Mario Fantini, who became dean. We had people of color, we had professional jazz musicians like Max Roach, and I also remember quite a few African-American professors. It had, for a place called Amherst, it had in its educational setting African-Americans, Asians, Native Americans.”
“No one said it to my face, but I had this feeling this was the step school, the not-respected school.”
“What I was doing was not to teach, it was to aid. I continued on through that for my master’s and the doctorate. For me, this opportunity heightened what I was already doing, and I just felt very qualified.”
“If you talk to anyone about Dwight Allen, this man is so bright and so intelligent. He knew where I was going and what I wanted to do, in my monologues, he saw that. And then I just felt so very special and wonderful.”
“This university had given me the opportunity. Needless to say, on graduation day, my mother knocked over a security guard and sat on my lap. After I graduated, she would say, ‘Now you have something to fall back on.’ ”
“We didn’t have huge football, huge basketball, that didn’t really happen till we had [John] Calipari.”
“The big colleges are there because of endowments or sometimes research. I think that our Massachusetts state school still could be mixed with a high-profile school. You could take courses at the private schools and still get your degree from UMass.”
“In my thesis, we talked about Fat Albert consciously, how these characters can think and solve problems. It’s out of the house. It’s about life. It’s saying things that other shows are not interested in saying. Because it’s about education. It’s about a kid who can’t play baseball or a sport on the Sabbath, about a little girl who can’t talk and why, and these fellows care so much. We’re dealing with that, and I put it in writing. When you read the dissertation, it is clear if you want to go into television you can use it as a tool to have people talk about these things.”
“UMass looked to me, because of who I am, it looked hip. That’s a key word. You’re coming off of demonstrations, you’re coming off of Martin being murdered. Students find themselves lined up and sitting at tables and writing about anti-whatever. In this time and period, we’re still looking at people working at the abolishment of segregation and racism. However, you got kids and families coming from all sections. There was no racism. No bullying.” Continued...