Howard University named Phylicia Rashad, the iconic actress who rose to fame playing everyone’s favorite mom, “Claire Huxtable,” the new dean of the College of Fine Arts on Wednesday.
Rashad, a native Houstonian, began her successful career under the lights of Broadway. She then played her most memorable role as the matriarch on the 1980’s hit series, “The Cosby Show.”
The Howard University alumna graduated magna cum laude as a fine arts major in 1970. The esteemed actress, now 72, has returned to the university that helped develop her theatrical prowess, as a dean.
“I would like to see the work that was established during my time blossom again with a new thrust,” said Rashad in a telephone interview with the Washington Post. “I would like to see a program contemporized without losing knowledge. I would like to see a faculty empowered to create and produce and design robust systems and a robust program … 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 exalted.”
Howard’s College of Fine Arts has now returned to its status as its own school within the university. Under a previous university administration, the school was absorbed into the College of Arts and Sciences. The loss of the college’s independence frustrated many fine arts students, faculty, and alumni, including Rashad.
“The discipline and study of fine arts are not understood. They are undervalued,” she told the Washington Post. “And that happens so much around the world. People imagine musicians, designers, and actors just wake up and do what we do. And that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The discipline of fine arts was like training for the military.”
Rashad is now under a three-year contract with Howard University and says she will be a working artist, living in D.C. while commuting to her home in New York and in Los Angeles.
According to university President Wayne A.I. Frederick, Rashad’s responsibilities will include teaching, modernizing the curriculum of the college, increasing the school’s enrollment, and designing a new fine arts building.
“She was the best candidate,” said Frederick. “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.”
Even with 13 honorary doctorate degrees from prestigious institutions such as Howard, Carnegie Mellon, Brown College, and Spelman College, Rashad is one of few Howard deans who did not graduate with an advanced degree. Regardless, Rashad’s years of experience and success in the world of fine arts more than make up for that.
Salute! Howard continues to be one HBCU definitely on the rise!