Renowned actress, producer and professor Phylicia Rashad was named dean of Howard University’s Chadwick Boseman College of Fine Arts in May 2021. The two-time Tony Award winner has announced that she will step down from her deanship role at the university after the 2023-2024 school year. (Photo courtesy of Howard University)

By Deborah Bailey,
AFRO Contributing Editor,

Phylicia Rashad, dean of Howard University’s Chadwick Boseman College of Fine Arts, is stepping down from her position at the end of the 2023-2024 academic year.  

Rashad, appointed by Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick in May 2021, shocked many as her resignation was announced just days before the start of the 2023-2024 academic year.  In a statement to the Howard University community, Frederick recounted the many contributions Rashad has made during her short tenure.  

“During Dean Rashad’s tenure,  contributions to Fine Arts programming at Howard have increased significantly, anchored by a $5.4 million gift from Netflix to establish the Chadwick A. Boseman Memorial Scholarship, which provides incoming theater students with a four-year scholarship to cover the full cost of University tuition,” Frederick wrote  in a letter to the Howard community this month, announcing Rashad’s departure. 

Rashad also championed a number of other significant financial gifts for the Boseman College of Fine Arts including contributions from the Capri Holdings Foundation for the Advancement of Diversity in Fashion, Microsoft Corporation and the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, founded by actress Taraji P. Henson, who is also an alumna of Howard.  

The two-time Tony award winning actress will continue in her final year at Howard as she has throughout her tenure. Rashad will combine her duties at Howard with active participation in theater arts leadership. 

Rashad will direct the world premiere of the play Purpose by Brandon Jacobs Jennings, slated to open in March 2024 at Steppenwolf Theatre.

The play, by the critically acclaimed Jacobs-Jennings, tells the story of an Illinois family at the center of Black Politics. The play is bound to become part of American political discourse in the highly anticipated 2024 presidential election season. 

“Rashad’s resignation may have seemed sudden to some, but resignation of key academic leaders following a presidential departure is not unusual in higher education,” said Debbie Curry, PhD. adjunct professor of organizational design at Bowie State University and Maryland Higher Education professional.  

“It’s not surprising that a dean appointed relatively recently would choose to step down as the President of the University is leaving.  Rashad came to Howard in close consultation with President Frederick.  She made a significant contribution in her short tenure. So if the person who selected you is moving on, it is natural to pursue other opportunities,” Curry stated. 

Frederick, who retires in September wrote, “We deeply appreciate Dean Rashad’s selfless contribution and commitment our alma mater during her leadership of the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts and the many contributions she has made to Howard University’s students, graduates and global community.”  

Rashad graduated from Howard University in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and went on to as a television and theater actor and director. In 2004, Rashad became the first Black actress to win a Tony Award for best actress in a play for her role in Raisin in the Sun. Her second Tony Award came in 2022, for best actress in a play, for her performance as Faye, an automotive plant worker and heroine of The Skeleton Crew. 

Rashad is also widely known for her portrayal of Claire Huxtable, in the 1980’s sitcom, The Cosby Show. Her allegiance to the Cosby Show’s lead actor, Bill Cosby briefly brought her under fire just months after she was hired as Dean.

In July 2021, Rashad defended Cosby’s release from a Pennsylvania prison after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned his conviction for sexual assault. 

“FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted – a miscarriage of justice is corrected,” Rashad tweeted in response to the decision to reverse his conviction.  The post received backlash by many on social media including Howard University students who expressed concern about the new Dean’s capacity to lead them. 

By the following year, the apprehension about Rashad died down as she proudly led the fine arts graduating class of 2022, including actor Anthony Anderson, who returned to Howard at the urging of Rashad, to finish his BFA degree at Howard after dropping out of school years earlier. 

Rashad’s most recent acting credits include Creed and Creed II, Just Wright, Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf and many more. The actor is looking to continue her artistic career after her resignation.