A grandiose vision that comes into being

The Futures Initiative thinks out of the box because the box is just that, a box: four sides and a lid that contain and arbitrary amount of knowledge and practices. Cathy Davidson said it: patriarchy and status quo filled the box with standardized analytics, specialization, and constant evaluation by peers and supervisors. Over time, this has made higher education a place where scarcity and competition are the norm.

This has terrible consequences for our society, since, as we know, any system produces what it was designed to produce. And, now that we are approaching the symbolic figure that for decades has represented the idea of “the future”, 2020, we certainly do not need any more of that nineteenth-century education, if we want to make the world more egalitarian. 

The Futures Initiative’s vision is giant, as visions ought to be. The Futures Initiative aims to restructure public university for students, faculty and administrators so that they interrupt a cyclical pattern of inequality in our society. This might sound grandiose. But we are not alone: leaders abound (even though few are aware of it)

In the post-industrial higher education there is no room for emotions. And yet, learning and research cannot be isolated from them. Even the greatest minds are much more than brains. Notice Albert Einstein’s first words in the article that gave birth to quantum theory, “it seems to me…”; or the famous annotation by Charles Darwin when he sketched his evolution theory, “I think…”. Genius hesitates, like everyone else. 

Patriarchy proscribed feelings from academia. Science, if rigorous, has to be cold. Teaching, if effective, has to be authoritative. Why are some words banned from higher education? Empathy does not obstruct knowledge. And why are some other words associated —and yet buried so we forget them— with success? Students, teachers, administrators, they all know what anxiety, competition, loneliness, confrontation, stress, and fear are. Where are joy, generosity, kindness? They should be in the work we do; in the classroom; in higher education. Where is love?

The Futures Initiative looks at the world with a lens of optimism. Some confuse this with unrealism. Do not let the status quo foul you. “If you can’t change reality, change your perceptions of it”, dixit Audre Lorde. We see the talent within every teacher and student; and, driven by our vision, we empower the next generation of intellectual leaders with bold, public, and engaged teaching and learning.

The Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar would encourage us to throw the box out of the window… and then throw out the window as well. However, the Futures Initiative truly believes in the (public) university as the place where a better society can be made real. And this can only be done by challenging the status quo. How? Innovating in everything we do.

In the case of organizations that inspire people and do great things, there exists a special partnership between vision and mission. As Simon Sinek explains, “to alter the course of an industry, requires a very special and rare partnership between one who knows WHY and those who know HOW”. The Futures Initiative’s vision is formidable, and its mission bold. Cathy Davidson sees doors where there are none; Katina Rogers makes sure those visionary gateways to a new education are actually built.

We model, on a small scale, what a whole new higher education looks like. Those doors let fresh air flow into the box, and this brings with it research that helps bridge gaps, teaching methods that put the student at the center, and beautiful individuals that want an equal opportunity to be their best shelves.

If you dare to walk out of the box, you will find new, amazing things. If graduate courses where interdisciplinary, there will be a collective ownership of ideas, and everybody will take responsibility for them; if we make finding a balance between academia and personal life a priority, parenthood will be a right and not a luxury some cannot afford; etc., etc., etc.  

As the poet said, “there is no road; you make your own path as you walk”.

Fancy a walk?


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