Phylicia Rashad, best known for her role as Clair Huxtable on "The Cosby Show," can now add university dean to her list of career accomplishments.
According to The Washington Post, the school announced Wednesday the multi-award winning actress and director will be dean of her alma mater Howard University’s College of Fine Arts.
Years before Rashad began her acting career, she was a theater acting major at Howard and graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor’s Degree in fine arts in 1970.
Now Rashad, 72, said she looks forward to returning to the university that shaped her theatrical skills while she also studied courses such as psychology, French history and Greek theater.
“I would like to see the work that was established during my time blossom again with a new thrust,” Rashad said in a telephone interview with the Post.
“I would like to see a program contemporized without losing knowledge. 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,” Rashad said. “And I would love to see us be a premiere program at the university. I would like to see the College of Fine Arts not only re-established, but see it exulted.”
Rashad becoming dean signifies the return of Howard’s College of Fine Arts as an independent school within the university. In 1998, as part of a cost-cutting move by previous administrators, the university merged the College of Fine Arts within its College of Arts and Sciences. The merger frustrated many of the school’s performing and visual arts students, faculty and alumni, including Rashad, the Post reported.
“The discipline and study of fine arts are not understood. They are undervalued. And that happens so much around the world. People imagine musicians, designers and actors just wake up and do what we do. And that could be farther from the truth,” Rashad told the Post. “The discipline of fine arts was like training for the military.”
According to the university, Howard had 307 students enrolled in its fine arts program this spring. Actors Chadwick Boseman, Taraji P. Henson and singers Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway and Richard Smallwood are all alumni of the fine arts program.
The Post reported that Rashad agreed to a three-year contract and plans to move to Washington D.C., while also commuting between her current home in New York as well as Los Angeles for theatrical and TV work. “I will be a working artist,” Rashad said.
Teaching, modernizing the school’s curriculum, expanding enrollment among fine arts majors and designing a more modern, fine arts building will be Rashad’s areas of main focus, according to Howard President Wayne A.I. Frederick.
“She was the best candidate,” Frederick told the Post. “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.”
Rashad’s family has a long history with Howard University. Debbie Allen, multi-award winning dancer, choreographer, actor and director, also graduated from Howard a year after her. Their father, Andrew Arthur Allen, graduated from Howard’s dental school in 1945.
Rashad has previously worked as a guest lecturer, adjunct professor and master-class instructor at several colleges, including Howard. She also served on Howard’s Board of Trustees from 1996 through 1999 and again from 2013 to 2016.
According to the Post, Rashad was a rare selection as a dean at the university due to being one of only a few of Howard deans who did not graduate from college with an advanced degree.
Frederick said Rashad’s vast experience in the entertainment industry equated to advanced degrees usually required for a dean position.
“One of the things we have to look at as an academic institution is where you have practitioners that have appropriate experience, it has to be considered,” Frederick told the Post. “Her experience in fine arts is extremely important.”