An Open Letter to Grad Students/Teachers/Co-Learners: #FuturesEd

Dear Graduate Students, Teachers, Co-Learners,

Welcome!  I can’t wait to meet you.

If you are taking “Mapping the Futures of Higher Education,” you are someone I am very excited to meet–someone willing to take risks that come with enormous rewards, someone with expansive curiosity,  someone excited to work with people from other fields because you are interested in understanding the “why” and “how” of a committed intellectual life, someone dedicated to teaching as learning and learning as teaching.   You are a leader, already, of the next generation of what the late, great Stuart Hall called “public educators.”  One of Stuart Hall’s former students used this term to describe his lifelong intellectual curiosity as a key component of his indefatigible social activism, a lifelong and continually replenishing and energizing commitment to the importance of a shared creativity, imagination, and commitment with access and opportunities open to all. There is nothing naive about the public educator; indeed, the role comes from Stuart Hall via  Gramsci’s motivating “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.”  That’s what being a public educator is. Because your research will be seriously tied to your role as a public educator, you will be part of an affirmation of the goal and importance of higher education and lifelong  learning.  You will be contributing to a critical and creative laboratory–or perhaps it’s a sandbox or maybe it’s a playground–from which you will draw for the rest of your career, especially if you pursue a career in college teaching, but by no means limited to that one career path.  Public educators are crucial in every walk of life.

[If you are not physically in this course but participating in and contributing to the online open project of this course, we hope you, too, will reap some of these rewards.  In the way you might learn from a documentary about a journey to Antartica, even if you are not yourself going on the journey–and even more because you, too, will be helping to “provision” the trip with your own contributions–we hope you too will find this adventure rewarding.]

  • Because you will be co-designing this course with everyone else in the course, because you will be applying what you experiment with in your own classes, because you will be allowing your own students to be co-learners and will find ways to convey (or to allow them to convey) insights to the rest of us, you will be gaining incomparable insights into leadership and collaboration, content and tools, success and experimentation, and such intangibles as motivation and inspiration. We will all leave this course inspired and humbled by what it means to truly work with –to depend upon and to be dependable for–other, diverse human beings.
  • Because so much of this is public, because great teaching is far more valued than we think it is by future employers, because we all need to be better learner/teachers, and because this course is designed to make your passion for your research inspire your passion for your students and, indeed, to inspire your students–a linkage rarely explored in pedagogy but invaluable to a career as a true public educator, you will find that, at future job interviews, this course will invariably be a major topic.   Be prepared!  You will soon be a spokesperson for a life of engaged learning.  What you are contributing to is unique, even singular.  You are leading a transformation we all know must happen in the future of higher education.  We will all leave this course committed public educators.
  • Because one of the co-learners in this experience will be the former college president at your institution, you will gain the insights of a lifetime into how institutions work, what you can and cannot do within institutions, how you motivate change, lead change, or just, sometimes, have to just give up and focus elsewhere.   Most people can go a whole career without understanding what is or is not possible within the chess game of an institution, where the moves are often prescribed, sometimes tightly circumscribed, but where, if you understand the rules and how you can use them, you can have very meaningful “wins.”  We will all leave this course empowered to be better institutional leaders.
  • Because this course is less about reforming higher education than it is about exploring the best ways to unleash human potential–as colearners, coteachers–we will all leave more confident about skills we didn’t know we had when we began. 

If this seems like over-promising, I want to say, simply, it’s not.  The course structures these outcomes.  It is the platform for making such outcomes possible.   When every teacher is a learner and every learner is a teacher, certain results are inevitable.  They are not outcomes– they are preconditions upon which aspirations can be realized.  If you are bold and courageous enough to be in this course,  you are already on the way to achieving these shared goals.


On the first day of class, please bring the following to class:

  1. The syllabus for the course you are teaching in one of the CUNY campuses.  Bring it as an editable Google Doc.  If you’ve never worked with Google Docs before, bring it as a Word document and you’ll learn the tool quickly.  You will be working on this with a peer–including anonymous online peers.  If this is your first time working in public, not to worry:  we’ll be guiding you through those principles too.
  2. Bring a fully planned calendar for the entire semester.  You’ll be finding a partner(s) and planning out the entire course so it is important that you know when your stressed times are  in your schedule so you can plan for maximum participation and leadership around that schedule.  This is your course and time management  and project management are lifelong skills we’ll be developing and discussing together every class,  Start by feeling confident about your own schedule.
  3. Bring a personal bio of 250 words or less.   It can include whatever you want to be made public.  Consider this a unique opportunity not for self-promotion but, certainly, for self-presentation.  You will be watched with huge excitement by many people around the world. 
  4. Bring a research statement of 250 words or less.  It can include whatever you want to be made public.  Again, a brilliant opportunity for self-presentation.
  5. Bring a laptop, ideally.   A tablet if that is the most mobile device you have.  If you have neither, not to worry.  Sharing a screen is an invaluable and even precious experience.
  6. Bring your hopes and fears.  Bring your voice. Bring your expertise. Bring your dreams.




The Futures Initiative
The Graduate Center, CUNY
365 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10016-4309