Phylicia Rashad Under Fire for Supporting Cosby

WaPo (“Phylicia Rashad, Howard U.’s new fine arts dean, blasted for praising Cosby’s release: ‘She’s not qualified’“):

Soon after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned Bill Cosby’s sexual assault conviction on Wednesday, the comedian’s former co-star and fierce ally Phylicia Rashad took to Twitter to celebrate the news.

“FINALLY! A terrible wrong is being righted — a miscarriage of justice is corrected!” she tweeted, along with a photo of Cosby.

The post set off a fervent backlash, with critics accusing Rashad, the newly appointed dean of Howard University’s College of Fine Arts, of being insensitive and disrespectful of sexual assault survivors.

It is not the first time Rashad publicly supported Cosby. In 2015, she told a reporter that she didn’t believe the dozens of women accusing him of sexual harassment and assault — a statement that also received criticism.

Howard University condemned Rashad’s tweet in a statement late Wednesday, saying that it “lacked sensitivity towards survivors of sexual assault.”

“Personal positions of university leadership do not reflect Howard University’s policies,” the statement read. “We will continue to advocate for survivors fully and support their right to be heard.”

Rashad’s comments come as Howard University attempts to recuperate from years of accusations from students and alumni of repeatedly mishandling sexual assault allegations.

Unconventionally, 18 hours after its posting and 9 hours after Howard’s counter-tweet, Rashad’s tweet is still live.

Granting that Rashad is now a Dean and therefore in a position of authority without the full expectations of academic freedom that mere faculty members expect, it’s absurd to equate desperately wanting to believe in the innocence of a lifelong friend with “[in]sensitivity towards survivors of sexual assault.” Still, it’s a bad look for her and Howard. Indeed, the whole reason Cosby was released yesterday is that he admitted to several of the allegations in a civil suit in exchange for immunity from criminal prosecution. There’s simply no question that Cosby is guilty of multiple sexual assualts.

Then again, Rashad has not made a secret of her support of Cosby over the years. It’s not obvious to me why this tweet expressing her joy in his release should get her fired.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Higher Ed, Popular Culture
James Joyner
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James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    While obtuse, it shouldn’t cost a job in most employment situations, but in an academic position where it will undermine the trust and confidence that students have in her? Particularly at a school that has a history of pooh-poohing sexual assault.

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  2. Kathy says:

    There’s never any reason to celebrate your friend the sexual predator got off on a technicality, unless you’re his accomplice or share his criminal values.

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  3. HarvardLaw92 says:

    I’m generally resistant to terminating people over whatever they might say when they aren’t acting ex cathedra, but the optics here aren’t a great look for her either. Friendship can blind us to a multitude of sins.

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  4. wr says:

    Of all the thousands of people who worked with Cosby over the years, she is just about the only one who ever stood up for him and declared his innocence. Everyone else who had the pleasure of knowing the man — yours truly included — had no doubt that he was loathsome to the core… and that was before the accusations came out.

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  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    @wr:

    Stockholm syndrome?

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  6. drj says:

    it’s absurd to equate desperately wanting to believe in the innocence of a lifelong friend with “[in]sensitivity towards survivors of sexual assault.”

    The problem is not that Rashad wants to believe in the innocence of Cosby, it’s that she claims, practically speaking, that dozens of women have lied about their experiences with him.

    Someone who feels she can disregard dozens of credible claims of sexual assault and rape just because she desperately wants to believe otherwise, should not be in a position of authority at an educational institution.

    She has just told us that she won’t protect her students if that requires her to face an unwelcome truth.

    If Rashad gets fired (which she should be), it’s not because of an opinion, but because there are situations in which she won’t be willing to do her job.

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  7. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    I get that she’s upset that, essentially, Cosby was railroaded every bit as much as many black defendants before him. The fact that he pleaded guilty to those or similar charges makes me less empathetic than she is, but it is still correct that he shouldn’t have been convicted in the first place and that releasing him is just. Rejoicing that a loophole worked in favor of a black man for a change is not something that I’d do, but I understand why black could end up with a jaundiced view of the justice system. Fortunately, we can simply ignore Ms. Rashad and let the administrators, trustees, and students of Howard sort this out for themselves. (I didn’t even know that Phylicia Rashad was still around until today.)

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  8. James Joyner says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: I would go further and say this wasn’t a mere loophole. Essentially, the prosecutor’s office compelled his self-incrimination in a civil suit by giving him immunity from criminal prosecution and then not only reneged on the deal but the judge knowingly allowed it to happen. It’s a complete circumvention of the system and people ought to be disbarred. [Edited to add: See Barbara MacQuade’s excellent oped in today’s NYT.]

    None of that, of course, means Cosby isn’t a slimeball.

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  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    Cosby is a mass rapist. He’s gotten away with it, but he remains a mass rapist. Rashad is an idiot. Whether she’s fired or not, I would not wish to have my kids anywhere near a university that hired her. I suspect many parents, and many students, will feel the same. It’s hard to see how she’s going to function having made clear that she’s sympathetic to a rapist.

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    This is not a race issue. Cosby is a monster.

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  10. senyordave says:

    For now Howard University will be the place that has “a dean who thinks Bill Cosby was innocent” in the minds of many people. And for some people Howard may be the place that has “a dean who knowingly defends a serial rapist”.
    If someone got justice for Cosby’s victims in another fashion what would be the chances of convicting that person of a crime?

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  11. EddieInCA says:

    Knowing what I know, as wr alluded to above, I hope the MFer dies a horrible, painful, lingering death. If I knew how to make that happen, I so would…

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  12. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @EddieInCA:

    He’s a predator. They can’t be reformed and they can’t be fixed (IMO). All you can do it protect the innocent victims they haven’t assaulted yet.

    And I agree with you. I’d cheerfully throw the switch. Anyone who abuses women as he has (and now undoubtedly will again) must forfeit. Be that their freedom or their right to live, they’ve ceded it.

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  13. gVOR08 says:

    Had she confined herself to something like, ‘I’m happy for my old friend and coworker. Whatever the circumstances, he’s an old man now and I hated to think of him in prison.’, I personally would let it pass. But,

    “FINALLY! A terrible wrong is being righted — a miscarriage of justice is corrected!”

    seems more than a little inappropriate. People have to be reminded who she is. No one was waiting with bated breath to hear what she had to say. Silence would have worked well for her.

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  14. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @gVOR08: She exercised her right to freedom of speech and now others will do the same and she will no doubt be greatly discomfited by their words and actions.

    C’est la vie.

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  15. de stijl says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Accountability will win out.

    Poor words unwisely chosen and she clicked on send anyway. That’s bad choices made three times in a short burst. She undercut her position and authority at Howard entirely in 30 seconds.

    An extremely carefully worded and vetted response would not be inappropriate given her history with him. Probably, best to just ignore.

    That was a disaster. Extremely poor judgement. Read the room.

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