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Howard University disavows sympathetic tweet on Bill Cosby by Dean Phylicia Rashad after outrage

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Key Points
  • Howard University disavowed a sympathetic tweet on comedian Bill Cosby and his abrupt release from prison by his TV wife Phylicia Rashad, the incoming dean of Howard's fine arts college.
  • Howard said in a statement that Rashad's initial tweet about Cosby "lacked sensitivity towards survivors of sexual assault."
  • Rashad's Twitter post came shortly after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned Cosby's conviction for indecent assault of a then-Temple University employee Andrea Constand.
(l-r) Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad appear on NBC News' "Today" show.
Peter Cramer | NBCUniversal | Getty Images

Howard University late Wednesday night disavowed a sympathetic tweet on comedian Bill Cosby and his abrupt release from prison earlier in the day by his TV wife Phylicia Rashad, the incoming dean of Howard's fine arts college.

Howard said in a statement that Rashad's initial tweet about the 83-year-old Cosby "lacked sensitivity towards survivors of sexual assault."

The Washington, D.C., historically black university added that "personal positions" of her and other school leaders "do not reflect Howard University's policies."

Rashad had tweeted "Finally," in capital letters and a string of exclamation marks, shortly after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned Cosby's conviction for indecent assault of a then-Temple University employee.

"A terrible wrong is being righted — a miscarriage of justice is corrected," added Rashad, who played Cosby's wife on both the NBC sitcom "The Cosby Show," and on CBS's "Cosby."

Rashad's tweet was widely criticized as unsympathetic to the scores of women who have accused Cosby of sexual assault or harassment.

And it raised concerns online from many about how she might handle sexual assault allegations in her role as the new dean of the reestablished and renamed Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts.

Rashad later followed up with a second tweet that addressed that backlash.

"I fully support survivors of sexual assault coming forward," wrote Rashad.

"My post was in no way intended to be insensitive to their truth. Personally, I know from friends and family that such abuse has lifelong residual effects. My heartfelt wish is for healing."

But that tweet drew more criticism of Rashad, who in her prior defenses of Cosby had called some of the claims of abuse against him "orchestrated."

"You can't support survivors of physical assault and then cheer when a sexual predator gets off on a technicality. Very disappointing," wrote one person in response to Rashad's second tweet.

Howard University, in its statement on Rashad which was also tweeted, said, "Survivors of sexual assault will always be our priority."

"While Dean Rashad has acknowledged in her follow-up tweet that victims must be heard and believed, her initial tweet lacked sensitivity towards survivors of sexual assault," the statement said.

"We will continue to advocate for survivors fully and support their right to be heard," the university said. "Howard will stand with survivors and challenge systems that would deny them justice. We have full confidence that our faculty and school leadership will live up to this sacred commitment."

Linda Correia, a Washington lawyer who in 2017 sued Howard University on behalf of six then-current students at the university for failing to respond reasonably to their complaints of sexual violence, said of Rashad's first tweet, "Well, I think the miscarriage of justice is for the victims" who testified at Cosby's trial.

"It's not surprising that she supported him. She's always supported him," said Correia, whose clients settled their lawsuit with Howard last year for undisclosed terms.

She added, "I would say that I think that any statement that is contrary to recognizing the miscarriage of justice for those women who had the courage to come forward is not what student survivors probably want to see right now."

VIDEO4:1904:19
Bill Cosby released from prison after Pa. Supreme Court overturns conviction

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court's ruling overturning Cosby's conviction cited a verbal agreement he had with a prior prosecutor that would have prevented him from being criminally charged in the case.

Wednesday's ruling bars any retrial in the case.

Cosby was two years into a three-to-10-year prison term for indecent assault against Andrea Constand in 2004.

Nationwide, 60 women came forward to accuse the "Cosby Show" star of rape or sexual harassment. Many of the accusers have said they were drugged during these encounters.

Cosby has said his contact with Constand was consensual. He also has denied all other allegations of wrongdoing.