For acclaimed actress Phylicia Rashad, July 1, 2021 was the first official day as Dean of the College of Fine Arts at Howard University. But some hoped that it would also be his last.
The day before, Rashad had sent a Controversial Tweet in support of her former “television husband,” Bill Cosby, after a court quashed his conviction for sexual assault. “FINALLY!!!!” Rashad wrote in the Tweet. “A terrible wrong is being righted – a miscarriage of justice is corrected! This prompted reviews and Howard students at ask for resignation.
Here, George Justice, English teacher and author of “How to be deanOffers a glimpse into the controversy surrounding Rashad.
Does Phylicia Rashad have the qualifications to be dean?
Phylicia Rashad does not have the typical qualifications of an academic dean. Most deans have served 10 to 30 years as full-time faculty members. They also tend to have been their department chair or associate dean first.
But Rashad has a wealth of relevant professional experience, which can be as important as college degrees for a fine arts school.
Perhaps best known for her role on “The Cosby Show” as Clair Huxtable, the character of Rashad Huxtable was once voted in a poll as “TV mom closest to your own mom in spirit. “Rashad is also no stranger to college campuses. She has taught master classes in colleges and universities Across the country. It also served as first Denzel Washington Chair in Theater at Fordham University.
the job description her current role as Dean requires 15 years of management experience at increasingly senior levels of responsibility, as well as “political aptitude” and “sound judgment”. It also requires “excellent oral and communication skills”, the ability to “get along well with the various interest groups in the college” and “the inclination to be a visible spokesperson for the college”.
It’s hard to reconcile this with the controversy she finds herself shrouded in as the Dean of Howard’s recently restored College of Fine Arts. The college must be named after Chadwick Boseman, the late “Black Panther” star who is also a former student of the school.
Does your book cover anything close to this controversy?
My book opens with the famous 2015 protests on the University of Missouri campus, where I taught from 2002 to 2013 and served as graduate dean from 2011 to 2013. In this case, the deans associates to help oust the chancellor from the campus and the president of the university system for what was considered their poor response to student protests regarding racism on campus.
Since deans represent the academic aspirations – and integrity – of their faculty and students, they must speak out on issues of great importance to the colleges they oversee. Typically, when Deans themselves create controversies, especially those related to race, gender, sexuality, or religion, they either resign or are fired.
For example, Sonya Duhe, the new dean of journalism at my home institution – Arizona State University – was fired shortly after taking the job in 2020. Her loss came after she left. Support tweeted for “good police officers who protect us” at “#BlackOutTuesday“- a day of protest on June 2, 2020 which followed the police murder of George Floyd. The Tweet sparked close scrutiny which led to disclosures she had been accused of humiliate students of color in its old institution. Specifically, it was alleged that she would tell them that their hair was too curly or that their complexion was too dark for them to be “ready for the camera”. Duhe would pursue Loyola and her campus newspaper for publishing a series of articles describing her as a racist.
In 2007, the University of California-Irvine withdrew an offer for Erwin Chemerinsky to be Dean of Law. Chemerinsky wrote that the offer was canceled after then-university chancellor Michael Drake told him he was “too controversial politically“for an editorial he wrote criticizing a federal regulation for those on death row.
And Ronald Sullivan, the first black college dean to chair a dorm at Harvard, has been fired as dean on his work as a lawyer on behalf of disgraced filmmaker Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein is currently serving 23 years in prison for rape and sexual assault. Sullivan retains his position as full faculty member at Harvard Law School.
Are there other comparable cases?
Two recent cases which made the national news are those of Dean June Chu at Yale, was suspended and never resumed his post writing reviews on Yelp suggesting ‘white trash’ would particularly like a certain restaurant Dean Leslie Neal-Boylan of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell was fired, allegedly for an email by declaring “everyone’s life counts” – a variant of a slogan designed as a Black Lives Matter mantra review – following the murder of George Floyd.
Do Deans have to follow a different set of social media rules?
Absolutely. Howard posted a declaration after Rashad’s supportive tweet to Cosby saying that “the personal positions of University leaders do not reflect the policies of Howard University”. In my experience, this is a very unusual statement and indicates a deference to Rashad that might not be shown to other high level administrators by their employers. Research has shown college presidents are using social media to strengthen their institutions but are afraid of making mistakes.
After a backlash to his Tweet, Rashad sent another Tweet who said, “I fully support survivors of sexual assault who come forward. My post was in no way intended to be oblivious to their truth. Rashad too apologized on July 2 for her first Cosby Tweet, but he was not enough to appease some of its detractors.
Most of the deans and other university administrators that I am have bland social media accounts. Their posts are mostly filled with praise for their institutions and self-praise for the great work they do with students, faculty and the community.
How does Title IX come into play here?
Title IX Educational Amendments of 1972 prohibited discrimination in American higher education. This includes sexual harassment and assault. Most universities, including Howard, employ Title IX administrators who advise campus management and conduct campus investigations. Until 2020, federal law required executives to be “mandatory journalists” who must report any information about possible incidents of harassment. Howard’s policy includes deans in the “responsible employees“, Who are” expected “to report incidents to the Title IX office. Many of these incidents in universities are linked to sexual issues among faculty and students, often with complicated power dynamics. As a “responsible employee” and as the leader of the School of Fine Arts, Rashad practically and symbolically represents the university’s compliance with Title IX. For his detractors, his support for Cosby calls into question his ability to take on this role.
This is a particularly important question in Howard, where in 2016 students protested against the university. perceived inaction in the face of sexual assault on campus.
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What factors will affect Rashad’s fate?
As my book describes, her role as dean will be to hire faculty, attract students, and work with the community. This includes raising funds to support the work of his school and the university in general. Prior to the Cosby controversy, Rashad may have been in a good position to do these things based on his experiences and stature. But in the middle demands his eviction, it remains to be seen whether the strengths she brings to this position will outweigh this controversy.
George Justice is a director of Dever Justice LLC, a higher education consulting firm.