Phylicia Rashad is stepping down as dean of Howard University’s Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts.
The Tony Award-winning actor is stepping down as dean at the end of her 2023-24 academic term. Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, the university’s outgoing president, announced Rashad’s exit in an email thanking her for her time with the esteemed HBCU and highlighting her contributions.
“In 2021, Dean Rashad returned to alma mater to lead the re-establishment of the College of Fine Arts as an independent college and to restore it to its rightful place as the center for arts and creativity at Howard University,” Frederick wrote. “The college was renamed in honor of world-renowned actor, playwright, director, cultural activist, and Howard alumnus, the late Chadwick A. Boseman.
“During Dean Rashad’s tenure, contributions to Fine Arts programming at Howard have increased significantly, anchored by a $5.4 million gift from Netflix to establish The Chadwick A. Boseman Memorial Scholarship.”
Rashad was a theater acting major at Howard, graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor’s in fine arts in 1970. She launched her career on Broadway before playing Bill Cosby’s TV wife, Clair Huxtable, on the popular 1980s sitcom “The Cosby Show.” She has starred in numerous stage, film and television projects in the years since.
The actor’s hiring in May 2021 marked the return of Howard’s College of Fine Arts as an independent school within the university. In 1998, the department was merged with the College of Arts and Sciences for budgeting reasons, upsetting many of the school’s performing- and visual-arts students, alumni and faculty.
But just a month after Rashad was welcomed as dean, her “Cosby Show” ties landed her in hot water. She appeared to be in Cosby’s corner after news dropped that the comic’s 2018 conviction for allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting former Temple University employee Andrea Constand had been overturned because of a due-process technicality.
“FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted – a miscarriage of justice is corrected!,” tweeted Rashad.
A couple of hours later, as a backlash began to brew, she deleted her post supporting her former TV husband and attempted to clarify her remarks, tweeting, “I fully support survivors of sexual assault coming forward. My post was in no way intended to be insensitive to their truth. Personally, I know from friends and family that such abuse has lifelong residual effects. My heartfelt wish is for healing.”
By the end of that week, she sent an email to Howard University students and parents, offering her “most sincere apology” for celebrating the overturning of Cosby’s conviction.
“My remarks were in no way directed towards survivors of sexual assault. I vehemently oppose sexual violence, find no excuse for such behavior, and I know that Howard University has a zero-tolerance policy toward interpersonal violence,” Rashad wrote.
She promised “to engage in active listening and participate in trainings to not only reinforce University protocol and conduct, but also to learn how I can become a stronger ally to sexual assault survivors and everyone who has suffered at the hands of an abuser.”
It wasn’t the first time Rashad had defended Cosby. In a 2015 ABC News interview, she said, “This is not about the women. This is about something else. This is about the obliteration of legacy.”
In October 2020, Rashad shared a throwback photo of herself that was taken during Howard University‘s Class of 1970 commencement ceremony. “I had just graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts and I knew that the world was before me,” she wrote in the caption. “Looking back at this moment I would say to myself, ‘Take a good look at this campus. It is more than brick and mortar. Yes, you are at the threshold of a new “beginning.” Take this living vibration of legacy forward with you.’”
Other notable Howard fine-arts alumni include Taraji P. Henson, Jessye Norman Alma Thomas and Roberta Flack.