Phylicia Rashad to step down as Howard fine arts dean after school year

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Actress and Howard University alum Phylicia Rashad will wrap up her tenure as dean of the school’s Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts by the end of the 2023-24 academic year.

Rashad — a TV, stage and film performer whose roles included playing Clair Huxtable on “The Cosby Show” — has served as dean since 2021.

The university said Rashad played a pivotal role throughout her tenure in revitalizing the prominence of the fine arts college, including attracting noted scholars, artists and creatives to the institution.

“Dean Rashad has successfully led the reestablishment of the College of Fine Arts as an independent college that continues to attract a high caliber of nationally and internationally recognized scholars, artists, and creatives who serve as department chairs, mentors, teachers, and role models to our immensely talented and dedicated students,” Howard President Wayne A.I. Frederick said in a note to campus released by the university.

Rashad, through a university official, declined a request for comment on her pending departure, which will come at the end of a three-year contract.

In a 2021 interview, Rashad spoke about her hopes for the fine arts college.

“I would like to see a program contemporized without losing knowledge,” Rashad told The Washington Post. “I would like to see faculty empowered to create and produce and design robust systems and a robust program. I would like to see students engaged in the disciplines of fine arts as they participate and engage in the university at large. I would like to see us graduate artists who are scholars as well.”

Howard University names actress and alumna Phylicia Rashad as dean of College of Fine Arts

Rashad, who studied theater acting and graduated magna cum laude from Howard in 1970, also previously served as a university trustee. Her sister — also a dancer, choreographer, actor and director — Debbie Allen, and their father, Andrew Arthur Allen, are Howard graduates too.

The selection of Rashad also marked a significant turning point as the fine arts college reestablished its status as an autonomous school within the university. In 1998, driven by financial considerations, the university merged the College of Fine Arts into its larger College of Arts and Sciences, a decision that stirred discontent among performing and visual art students, faculty members and graduates — with Rashad among those expressing dissatisfaction.

Months after Rashad’s hire was announced, Howard said it would rename the fine arts college after Boseman, the late actor who is also a graduate of the university.

As dean, the university said Rashad supported the creation of initiatives such as the Chadwick A. Boseman Memorial Scholarship program, underpinned by a $5.4 million contribution from Netflix. Further backing from Capri Holdings, Microsoft Corp. and The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation augmented the college’s resources and scope, the university said.

Yet, Rashad’s tenure wasn’t without controversy. In 2021, a tweet in which she expressed support of Bill Cosby following his release from prison because of overturned sexual assault charges triggered criticism. Rashad apologized, noting the statement had “caused so much hurt in so many people — both broadly and inside the Howard community.”

Phylicia Rashad, a Howard University dean, issues apology over Cosby statement

Rashad was named the Toni Morrison Endowed Chair in Arts and Humanities at Howard earlier this year. She also served as the Denzel Washington Chair in Theatre at Fordham University.

As Rashad transitions, Howard is readying to initiate the search for her successor. The university also announced the upcoming departures of deans Gracie Lawson-Borders of the Cathy Hughes School of Communications and Sandra Crewe of the School of Social Work by the end of the academic year.

In September, Ben Vinson III will join Howard as its 18th president, succeeding Frederick, who is stepping down after leading the university for nearly a decade.

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