The Knight Institute is, or is about to be, five years old. When exactly we should celebrate this milestone birthday is the subject of much lawyerly debate at the Institute these days, since in fact we were born out of a series of conversations between Columbia University President Lee Bollinger and Knight Foundation President and CEO Alberto Ibargüen over a period of years. I came on board in the fall of 2016 as the Institute’s first director. The Institute filed for its certificate of incorporation in November of that year, and the Institute’s board convened for the first time a few months later. We filed our first case and hosted our first major public program soon after that. These are just a few of the “when’s our birthday?” contenders. But if we want to celebrate the moment when we went from an idea to an entity with a real-world presence, we can rightly point to the day when Columbia University and the Knight Foundation publicly announced they were establishing the Institute. That date happens to have been five years ago this week.
Over the course of five years, the Institute has grown quickly. It has made its mark on the law, on scholarly debates, on the policies of major technology companies, and on public conversations about the freedoms of speech and the press. This is thanks to generous funders, wonderful partners, a talented and committed staff, and an engaged and supportive board. And it is thanks to an incredible network of thinkers, practitioners, gadflies, and visionary dreamers who care about the future of the First Amendment in the digital age and who have shaped our work and fueled our debates and conversations over the past five years. Last week’s extraordinary “Reimagine the Internet” conference is just the latest example of the ways in which ideas, values, and innovation can meet and thrive in the digital sphere, and the role the Institute now plays in fostering these connections and conversations.
As we continue to debate what we will officially call our birthday, we asked President Bollinger, who chairs our board, to reflect in this video on the Institute’s origins and our first five years. We also put together a short video about the work we’re doing now, and the role we see for the Institute in contemporary debates about the First Amendment.
Thanks to all of you who have supported the Institute and contributed to our success. Here’s to the next five years.
Jameel Jaffer is executive director of the Knight Institute.