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Senior Advisor on Transformation to the Chancellor (CUNY)

Winner of the 2021 Annual Advocacy Award from the Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences

Two-Time Winner of the Frederic W. Ness Book Prize from the American Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), the only person to do so since the award’s inception in 1979.

Cathy N. Davidson is the Senior Advisor on Transformation to the Chancellor of the City University of New York (CUNY), a role which includes work with all twenty-five campuses serving over 275,000 students. As Senior Advisor, her special emphasis is “academic success,” focusing on programs with a dual focus on student and faculty success. At the Graduate Center (CUNY), Davidson is a Distinguished Professor in the Ph.D Program in the English, as well as in the M.A. in Digital Humanities, and the M.S. in Data Analysis and Visualization programs. In 2014, she founded the Futures Initiative, dedicated to “advancing equity and innovation in higher education,” with a particular focus on the extraordinary diversity and social mobility of CUNY, America’s largest, public urban university.

Davidson began her career as a playwright, represented by the legendary theatrical agent Helen Merrill, before turning to scholarly academic and trade nonfiction writing. The author or editor of over twenty books, she has taught at a range of institutions, from community college to the Ivy League. She held two distinguished professor chairs at Duke University, where she taught for twenty-five years and also became the university’s (and the nation’s) first Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies (1998-2006). As Vice Provost, Davidson was responsible for working with faculty and other university leaders on a number of key projects, including: Duke’s first Program in Cognitive Neuroscience; the Canine Cognition Center; the Center for Environmental Solutions; the Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering, Medicine, and Applied Science; the Nasher Museum of Art; and many more. With Dean Karla F. C. Holloway, she cofounded the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies and cofounded and co-directed the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute. She led the creation of the Program in Information Science and Studies and orchestrated the “Duke iPod experiment” of 2004, where students were given then-cutting edge Apple products –first-generation iPods (still one-way music-listening devices)–and challenged to expand their educational use, including by inventing breakthrough interactive interfaces. Working closely with philanthropist Melinda French Gates, Davidson created the University Scholars Program and collaborated on developing the French Family Science Center.  In 2001, she cofounded and continues to codirect HASTAC.org (called “Haystack”), the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory, recognized by the National Science Foundation as the world’s “first and oldest academic social network.”

Davidson’s many prizewinning books include the classics like Revolution and the Word: The Rise of the Novel in America (Oxford University Press, 2004), Thirty-Six Views of Mt Fuji: On Finding Myself in Japan, (Duke University Press, 2006), and Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory (Norton, 1999, with photographer Bill Bamberger). Most recently, she has concentrated on the science of learning in the “How We Know” Trilogy: Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (Viking/Penguin 2017); The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux (Basic Books, 2017; reissued in paperback, 2022); and, co-authored with Christina Katopodis, The New College Classroom (Harvard University Press, 2022). Both The New Education and The New College Classroom were awarded the Frederick W. Ness annual book prize from the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U).

Davidson has won many other awards, prizes, and grants throughout her career including from the Guggenheim Foundation, ACLS, NEH, NSF, the MacArthur Foundation, and others. She is the 2016 recipient of the Ernest L. Boyer Award for “significant contributions to higher education.” She received the Educator of the Year Award (2012) from the World Technology Network and, in 2021, the Council of Colleges of Arts and Sciences presented Davidson with its annual Arts and Sciences Advocacy Award. She has served on the Board of Directors of Mozilla (2012-18), was appointed by President Barack Obama to the National Council on the Humanities (2011-17), and has twice keynoted the Nobel Prize Committee’s Forum on the Future of Learning (2019, 2020).

Photo: The iPod Experiment (2004)

Photo credit: Chris Hildreth


Davidson blogs regularly as Cat in the Stack on hastac.org. You can follow @CathyNDavidson on Twitter and @catinstack2 on TikTok and Instagram.

For speaking engagements, Cathy Davidson is represented by Leigh Bureau.

For publishing and book rights, Cathy Davidson is represented by Mullane Literary Associates.

In honor of the publication of The New Education, the author contributes to a scholarship fund established at the Graduate Center, CUNY.