With backing from Bill Cosby, Phylicia Rashad is just one of many Deans tweeting in trouble

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(THE CONVERSATION) For acclaimed actress Phylicia Rashad, July 1, 2021 was the first official working 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 sent a controversial Tweet in favor of her former “television husband” Bill Cosby after a court overturned his sexual assault conviction. “FINALLY!!!!” Rashad wrote in the Tweet. “A terrible wrong is being righted – a miscarriage of justice is corrected! This prompted Howard’s critics and students to call for his resignation.

Here, George Justice, professor of English and author of “How to be a dean,” offers 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 has previously been voted in a poll as “the mother of television closest to your own mother in spirit.” Rashad is no stranger to college campuses, either. She has taught master classes at colleges and universities across the country. She was also the first Denzel Washington Chair in Theater at Fordham University.

The job description for her current role as Dean requires 15 years of management experience at increasingly senior levels of responsibility, as well as “political skills” 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 re-established College of Fine Arts. The college is to 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 events of 2015 on the University of Missouri campus, where I taught from 2002 to 2013 and where I was graduate dean from 2011 to 2013. In this case, the deans are are partnering to help oust the campus chancellor and the president of the university system for what was seen as their weak response to student protests about 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 tweeted her support. to the “good police officers who protect us” “#BlackOutTuesday” – a day of protest on June 2, 2020 following the police murder of George Floyd. The Tweet sparked close scrutiny which led to revelations that she was accused of humiliating students of color at her previous 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 reportedly sued Loyola and her campus newspaper for publishing a series of articles describing her as 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-chancellor Michael Drake told him it was “too politically controversial” for an op-ed he wrote criticizing a federal regulations for those on death row.

And Ronald Sullivan, the first black dean of the faculty to chair a dormitory at Harvard, has been fired as dean of his legal work on behalf of disgraced filmmaker Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein is currently serving 23 years in prison for rape and sexual assault. Sullivan retains his tenure as a full professor at Harvard Law School.

Are there other comparable cases?

Two recent cases in the national news are those of Dean June Chu at Yale, who was suspended and never returned to her post for writing reviews on Yelp suggesting the “white trash” would particularly like a certain restaurant. Dean Leslie Neal-Boylan of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell was fired, allegedly for an email stating that “everyone’s life matters” – a variation of a slogan intended as a critique of the Black Lives Matter mantra – following the murder of George Floyd.

Do Deans have to follow a different set of social media rules?

Absolutely. Howard issued a statement 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 that college presidents use social media to strengthen their institutions, but fear making mistakes.

After a backlash to his Tweet, Rashad sent out another Tweet which stated, “I fully support survivors of sexual assault who come forward. My post was in no way intended to be oblivious to their truth. Rashad also apologized on July 2 for his first Cosby Tweet, but that was not enough to appease some of his 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 of the 1972 Educational Amendments prohibits 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 transmit any information about possible incidents of harassment. Howard’s policy includes deans under the category of “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 complex 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 significant issue in Howard, where, in 2016, students protested the university’s 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 amid calls for her ouster, it remains to be seen whether the strengths she brings to the post will outweigh this controversy.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: https://theconversation.com/with-support-for-bill-cosby-phylicia-rashad-becomes-just-one-of-several-deans-to-tweet-themselves-into-trouble – 163820.

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