Phylicia Rashad returns to her alma mater Howard University as a dean

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Actress Phylicia Rashad poses for a portrait at the 2014 American Black Film Festival at the Metropolitan Pavillion on June 21, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)
Actress Phylicia Rashad poses for a portrait at the 2014 American Black Film Festival at the Metropolitan Pavillion on June 21, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)
  • The University has named the multi-award winning actress and director the dean of its College of Fine Arts. 
  • Although she is the recipient of honorary doctorate degrees she is one of a few deans without a postgraduate degree.
  •  As dean, she will focus on modernising the curriculum and expanding the school’s enrollment. 

On 12 May 2021, Howard University named multi-award winning actress and director Phylicia Rashad as dean of its College of Fine Arts. 

Before gracing television screens as Clar Huxtable on the 1980s sitcom The Cosby Show, Rashad made her career debut on Broadway. This after she she graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1970. Majoring in theatre acting, Rashad also studied psychology, French history and Greek theatre at the university. 

Prior to her years at the school, the artist’s tie to Howard was established. Her sister Debbie Allen is an award winning performance artist and director who graduated from Howard. Before that, their father, Andrew Arthur Allen graduated from Howard’s dental school in 1945.

As it stands, the university has 307 students enrolled into its fine arts program. Its alumni include Taraji P. Henson, Chadwick Boseman, Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway and Richard Smallwood. 

Five decades since graduating, Rashad says she looks forward to returning to the institution that helped shape her practice. Speaking to The Washington Post, Rashad said she would like to see the work that was established while she was at Howard blossom with a new thrust. 

Before becoming dean, Rashad has worked with the College of Fine Arts as a guest lecture, adjunct professor and master-class instructor. This in addition to serving on Howard’s Board of Trustees from 1996 to 1999 then again from 2013 to 2016. 

Although Rashad is the recipient of 13 honorary doctorate degrees from Howard, Carnegie Mellon, Brown, and Spelman College, she is one of a few Howard deans who did not graduate with a postgraduate degree. In response to this, Howard President, Wayne A.I. Frederick said her vast experience in the arts ought to equate to the degrees required for a dean position.

For Rashad to receive this position, a committee with fine arts students and faculty conducted a national search for the position. The search was then narrowed to three finalists, one of which was Rashad. The university declined to identify the other two. 

To go with Rashad’s appointment, the university’s College of Fine Arts is once again an independent school within the university. It gains its independence after, in 1998, the university absorbed the school of fine arts into its College of Arts and Sciences to cut costs. 

In accepting the position, Rashad agreed to a three-year contract that will see her relocating. As dean, she will focus on teaching, modernising the school’s curriculum, expanding enrollment as well as designing a more contemporary fine arts building. 

Commenting on the appointment, Frederick said she was the best candidate.

“One of the things I was interested in was potentially having someone who was a practitioner in the field of fine arts. I think it’s important for us to have people who are ready and able to stand up and guide the young people who are going to go into that field,” Frederick added. 

On her vision for the school, Rashad said the following: 

“I would like to see a program contemporized without losing knowledge. I would like to see faculty empowered to create, 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.”

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