Ever on the forefront of innovation, Columbia University announced this week that it would form a special institute to “preserve and expand First Amendment rights in the digital age.” The new program will help students understand the principles of the First Amendment and its relationship to the age of technology, with an aim to help legal communities. The program will be called the Knight First Amendment Institute, as its creation was made possible by a generous $60 million donation from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
One of the institute’s functions will be to “monitor court cases that offer an opportunity to define First Amendment law in the digital age, with a goal of achieving significant victories.”
Columbia University has long been a stronghold for aiding in underserved communities and assisting them in education and law, so their interest in law and education comes as no surprise. Recently, Columbia alumnus and private equity veteran Henry Kravis was awarded with the school’s Centennial Award for his work in these fields.
The new program will also aid in the legal community’s understanding of how law works in the digital age, where lines of ownership and property are so easily blurred. Longtime Columbia president Lee Bollinger believes the new institute can support legal causes that might be ignored by the media. This will also be the first program of its kind to focus specifically on the issue of First Amendment rights and digital life. The Founding Fathers likely never imagined a country in which communication would change so drastically and so quickly. As such, a program like Columbia’s is necessary to figuring out how to move forward.
“The basic freedoms we take for granted under the First Amendment are hardly settled,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president of the Knight Foundation. “As the Internet becomes even more integral to our lives, we face significant questions about the evolution of our rights. Threats to free speech are on the rise, and our hope is that the Institute will not just protect but help reinvigorate First Amendment principles for future generations.”
A survey conducted by the Knight Foundation found that newsroom leaders believe the news industry is now even less able to take on First Amendment court cases than it was a decade ago, largely due to cost.
“This is a precarious moment for the First Amendment,” said Jennifer Preston, the Knight Foundation’s vice president for journalism. “With this institute, we hope to establish a primary, permanent, influential advocate of free expression.”