*Tony-winning and Emmy-nominated actor Phylicia Rashad is returning to her alma mater as the dean of Howard University’s newly reestablished college of fine arts.
The HBCU conducted a nationwide search before appointing Rashad, who’ll begin her new role on July 1, reporting to Provost Anthony K. Wutoh. The veteran performer, who became a household name as Clair Huxtable on “The Cosby Show,” graduated magna cum laude from Howard in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts.
The five-time Emmy and Tony Award winner’s return to campus is part of its fine arts reemergence. The College of Fine Arts was merged into the College of Arts and Sciences in the late 90s.
In an extensive interview with Variety, Rashad says she was honored and surprised by her appointment.
“I never saw myself as a dean,” she says with a laugh. “But then, I’ve never thought of myself as many things that I’ve been. “It’s a privilege to be a part of reestablishing the College of Fine Arts, to engage with the administration, the faculty, the students, the alumni, as well as artists around the country. It’s exciting to think about building towards a future with a College of Fine Arts and Howard University.”
Howard University President Wayne A. I. Frederick said there is “no individual better suited to take on this role than Ms. Phylicia Rashad.”
“As we reintroduce our campus community and the world at large to Howard’s College of Fine Arts, the dean will play an instrumental role in ensuring an auspicious beginning for this reestablished institution,” Frederick said. “Given Ms. Rashad’s reputation as well as her capabilities and impressive list of accomplishments, she will undoubtedly empower the college to transcend even our incredibly high expectations. Under her leadership, Howard will continue to inspire and cultivate the artists and leaders who will shape our niche and national cultures for generations to come.”
Below are videos of Rashad’s connection with Howard, followed by Rashad’s post-announcement interview with Variety:
The celebrated actor is no stranger to facilitating higher education. She has previously served as a guest lecturer and adjunct faculty member at Howard, counting her “This Is Us” co-star Susan Kelechi-Watson and the late Chadwick Boseman among her students.
“I started teaching at the invitation of Al Freeman Jr., who was a former chair of the department of theater. He was a friend and we had also worked together in a soap opera, and he was from the state of Texas as well,” she recalls. “At the time that I was teaching this masterclass at Howard, I was taping ‘Cosby’ in New York. I would fly down every Friday after tape day to conduct what was supposed to be an hour-long class, which ended up sometimes being three hours because students wouldn’t leave.”
In a touching gesture, some of the students Rashad taught vouched for her to take over as the new dean, she reveals. “I was asked not to discuss this, but somehow some former students were aware of the fact that I was in process of being interviewed and they quietly voiced their support.”
Looking back at her long history with Howard (her father and sister Debbie Allen also graduated from the university), Rashad also marvels at the full-circle nature of her appointment, quickly reminded of her first days on the campus in Washington D.C.
“There was a level of excitement. [But] there was also unknowing, because when you arrive on campus, there is so much you don’t know,” she says. “I didn’t visit Howard University’s campus before applying and then enrolling. I got on the plane and went, that was it. These college visits, when I was going to school, that wasn’t really happening a lot.”
Though Rashad has accepted a new position, that doesn’t mean she’s done acting just yet. “It is understood that I’m not a retired person,” she explains, when asked how the new role will affect her on-screen career. “It is understood that there were projects in the pipeline before this process began that I am committed to.”
Among Rashad’s upcoming roles is “Creed III,” where she’s set to reprise her role as Mary Anne, the adoptive mother of Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan, who will also direct the third installment of the boxing film).
She has taught students at New York University, Vassar College, Carnegie Mellon and Juilliard, among others. She also presides over a number of boards, including Brainerd Institute Heritage and DADA (the Debbie Allen Dance Academy). Since 2017, Rashad has been the brand ambassador of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.