Things to love about Phylicia Rashad as fine arts dean

Higher education, historically Black or otherwise, is best served with a careful blend of practitioner and researcher training; that is to say that it is no longer sufficient for students paying premium costs to learn how to do a job armed solely with theoretical exposure in the field.

It is important for Howard’s School of Divinity to be led by Yolanda Pierce, one who is both a skilled academician and preacher, to lend her expertise in curriculum development, tenure and promotion, fundraising, and student development.

Phylicia Rashad has taught, consulted, and supported theater arts at many stops for years before coming to Howard. What she knows about auditioning, navigating the industry, dealing with Hollywood’s growing reconciliation of Black artists and storytelling should be reflected across the spectrum of the college’s academic offerings.

Get on HBCU train

The faculty at Howard also deserves more credit for the work they’ve done for years in training experts in theater and creative arts. We deserved to know that Kemp Powers was a Howard alum before “Soul’’ and “One Night in Miami.’’

We deserve to know the people who helped to make him who he is today, and who is currently enrolled in Howard that will soon follow in his footsteps.

The attention that will be tethered to Rashad’s appointment is a tidal wave that will bring more attention to more faculty and student talent at one of the nations’

great hubs for training Black creative talent.

For years, Alabama State University pipelined dozens of award-winning actors from Montgomery to Broadway, thanks to former fine arts dean Tonea Stewart, also a working actress who refined the college’s teaching and training culture to make it more conducive to productions and studios seeking talent from non-traditional settings.

Substance over flashy

Even if we get out of the weeds of academic infrastructure, it stands to reason that Howard fine arts will raise more money, get more coverage, and send out more artists to professional careers because Rashad has returned — a move she was under no obligation to make.

She isn’t more famous because she’s coming to lead an academic college at Howard; whether she worked another day in her life for Howard or any other institution, Vanessa still got fussed out for having big fun with the Wretched in Baltimore.

A flashy appointment doesn’t mean that it’s all-flash; there is substance behind the timing and tenor of a realigned school making an esteemed alumna the face of its operation while allowing its brain trust to build and to work with the benefits her celebrity may provide.

Hate it or love it, Dean Rashad makes Howard a little brighter in the big lights of competitive higher education, and the sector is better for it.

Jarrett L. Carter, Sr. is publisher of HBCU Digest (

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