Higher Education Scholar: Cathy N. Davidson

Cathy Davidson is presently working at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York as founding director of the Futures Initiative and is a Distinguished Professor in the Ph. D. Program in English. She was given this position after several large and commendable academic achievements such as, co-founding and now co-directing H.A.S.T.A.C. (Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory). She also served on the National Council of the Humanities as an appointee of former President Barack Obama from 2011 to 2017. Moreover, she was the 2016 recipient of the Ernest J. Boyer Award for significant contributions to higher education. 

Cathy Davidson
2016 Wikimedia

 As a professor of higher education, Davidson focuses on the reason how the system of higher education was created, and how it now effects twenty first century students because it has not changed. She offers a wide variety of innovative solutions to solve issues that many higher education students face. To support her stance in her argument for the betterment of higher education, Davidson has written several books, articles, and has given several interviews concerning higher education. This has aided her to attain a high esteemed and creditable reputation in the scholarly community and the general public.

Davidson has written a few books on higher education, but she really starts to discuss higher education more specifically after she became the first educator of the board of directors of Mozilla in 2012. This occurred due to the fact that she now had a larger presence and voice online because she was keeping up with the twenty first century and its technological advancements. Davidson had already really shaped  her opinion of  and established her argument in 2003, when she was a professor at Duke with her iPod experiment. This experiment, which she conducted on Duke University’s incoming freshmen class, help her to support her opinion on certain parts of higher education. Davidson concludes that as technology was and is starting to become more and more advance, the traditional classroom should advance with technology. Even today she continues to support for this argument and also expands on this basis.

In 2011, Davidson published the book Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century, which advocates for a more innovative and digitalized educational system due to the variety of different types of learners in the system by saying “You can’t take on twenty-first-century tasks with twentieth-century tools and hope to get the job done,”(Davidson 7). Davidson states that one size does not fit all, and this concept needs to change because we are now in the twenty first century and there are several different ways to work with students who do not succeed in a traditional classroom.

As mentioned earlier, Davidson is currently a Distinguished professor and Founding director of Future Initiatives at Graduate Center of the City University of New York. In 2014, she accepted this position, so she could dedicate herself to furthering innovation and achieving equality in higher education. The group she found at CUNY, Future Initiatives, was created to have the public re-investment in higher education to further advance our democratic society. In her current position Davidson is able to advocate her opinion of the faults of higher education, which are mostly focused around how twentieth century style traditional classrooms are still being used today, in a world where everything is now done on an electronic device of some sort.

This was one of her central thesis prongs in her book, The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World In Flux. Davidson states “America’s elite purists colleges went through a massive redesign, shifting away from their founding mission…Such prescriptive, disciplinary, and specialized training worked well for most of the twentieth century. But it makes a lot less sense for our postindustrial and post-internet world…”(Davidson 3). Throughout her book, Davidson first introduces several faults that are a part of the college system that need to be altered. Not only does Davidson argue for more advanced classrooms and teaching method in this day and age, but also for lower tuition cost. These costs are steadily on the rise, making it harder for a student to go to college and then causing them to an obtaining larger debt after. She discusses the academic structure, which is too rigid and controlling in regard to today’s professional work environment and in general. Furthermore, Davidson contends that colleges need to prepare students for a long-term career, not for a short-term job. By keeping their old, traditional teaching method in classrooms, colleges continuously coach students on the book version of a job, when they should be helping and preparing students to apply what they learn in the classroom to real life situations to get them ready for a career, not job. 

Then Davidson goes on to explain and show what some possible solutions are to fix the issues she mentions in The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World In Flux. Davidson identifies a few colleges who have implemented the possible solutions she had previously discussed, as her models. She praises LaGuardia Community College and other community colleges whom enforces a more active learning style, Arizona State University for their more realistic, problem solving approach in the classroom, and Hampshire University for ending all standardized testing reliance. Davidson then goes on further to recognize and applaud teachers and professors who practice more modern teaching style and engage their students in learning which gives means to where everyone can succeed in the classroom and outside, in the real world.

Many people see Cathy Davidson’s work as a gate to a domain of problems that exist but are never mentioned.  Michael Berube reviewed Cathy Davidson’s book The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World In Flux and explained how she captured a topic so shadowed and not usually seen or addresses by those in a position as high as hers. As Davidson has taught at prestigious universities such as Duke, Stanford, and Georgetown to community colleges such as LaGuardia. Berube explains how, in her book, Davidson addresses the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

 Laura K. Simmons reviewed Cathy Davidson’s book Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century and in a few words, sums up the book by saying “That [technological] shift requires new ways of working, but our institutions (schools and businesses are her primary examples) have not kept up” (Simmons). Simmons commends this book on its simplicity and how anyone could understand it due to Davidson’s use of realistic metaphors.

Davidson is the voice for students who don’t have one. She has accomplished so much as a scholar of higher education, and to this today continues to fight for a better higher educational system for college students everywhere. She addresses a significant problem that everyone turns a blind eye to: students not being ready for the real-world career wise because colleges do not teach students how to apply what they learned to real world situations. Davidson continues to urge teachers and professors alike to practice a more active learning style in which even those with learning disabilities may succeed in. She gives many creative examples of modern teaching methods such as MOOC’s, which are free massive open online courses which give people a more flexible way to learn. Cathy Davidson, through her achievements is making progress on solving the biggest issue higher education faces today, taking “on twenty-first-century tasks with twentieth-century tools” (Davidson 7). She is pushing for colleges and universities to catch up to the twenty first century’s modern, technologically advance society, as student and professor hardship will only escalate due to the increasing gap in reality from academia.


Cathy Davidson’s sites:


Cathy Davidson’s website

Cathy Davidson’s Social Media: 


Cathy Davidson’s interviews:

Revolutionizing the University

Rethinking Education 

Works Cited:

Davidson, Cathy N. The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World In Flux. Basic Books, 2017.

Davidson, Cathy N. Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century. Penguin, 2012.

Bérubé, Michael. “<italic>The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux</Italic>.” Critical Inquiry, vol. 45, no. 1, Oct. 2018, pp. 234–235. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1086/699578.

Simmons, Laura K. “Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century – By Cathy N. Davidson.” Teaching Theology & Religion, vol. 16, July 2013, p. e97. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/teth.12116.

“Cathy Davidson.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Oct. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathy_Davidson.

“Cathy N. Davidson.” Cathy N. Davidson, www.cathydavidson.com/.

Rogers, Katina, et al. “HASTAC.” HASTAC, 2 Dec. 2018, www.hastac.org/.

Rogers, Katina, et al. “The Futures Initiative.” HASTAC, 6 Dec. 2017, www.hastac.org/groups/futures-initiative.

Davidson, Cathy N. “MOOC Interventions: The History and Future of (Mostly Higher) Education.” Cathy N. Davidson, 18 Nov. 2013, www.cathydavidson.com/innovations/mooc-interventions-the-history-and-future-of-mostly-higher-education/.


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