Columbia 1A Institute silent after protesters shut down speaker
Columbia University’s lone institution committed to upholding the First Amendment has remained quiet following student censorship of conservative speakers.
The Knight First Amendment Institute, an on-campus think-tank dedicated to “defending the freedoms of speech” and funded with a $60 million endowment, has done little in response to mounting hostility towards speakers invited by the school’s College Republicans chapter.
Instead, the Institute has filed, or is involved in, five ongoing lawsuits against the Trump administration, all while students continue to attempt to shut down events.
On Tuesday, for instance, Columbia students successfully shouted down conservative commentator Tommy Robinson, who Skyped into an auditorium intending to deliver a speech on immigration, but was prevented from doing so by rowdy protesters.
In fact, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has even added the incident to its Disinvitation Database, contending that “substantial event disruption” amounted to a successful disinvitation.
Meanwhile, many students have also endorsed calls for Columbia to prevent Mike Cernovich, another upcoming guest of the College Republicans, from speaking on campus later this month.
“Our goal is to not only protest the event on Tuesday, but also to pressure the university into cancelling the Cernovich event, as well as any future events involving these kinds of hateful and racist views,” wrote the Southern Poverty Law Center at Columbia, led by student Mistee Denson.
“We do respect free speech, but we also believe that we have the right to stand up and push back and say this is not how Columbia as a whole feels, this is not how we feel and this is not representative of the university,” Denson argued.
Yet there is nothing on the Knight Institute’s website or social media accounts that indicates disagreement with the recent anti-free speech tactics of student protesters at Columbia, although the Institute did publish an essay on its website criticizing the phenomenon more broadly.
Campus Reform reached out to the Institute to inquire about its noticeable silence, and in response, Media Director Ujala Sehgal noted that the group hosts “essays and events” to promote free speech on campus.
However, all of the Institute’s upcoming events are off-campus, while only one of the Institute’s past events was hosted on campus—and that event was held on a Monday during classes. Sehgal did, however, claim that the Institute is planning five future on-campus events, which will be announced on its website and on social media.
Sehgal declined to comment on the recent student protest, but did forward Campus Reform a statement about the work of the Institute.
“Through our essays and events, the Institute will aim to address issues related to the robustness of free speech in a variety of environments, including college campuses, with the aim of both sparking and enriching public discourse,” the statement read. "So far this academic year it has five on-campus events planned, which it will announce on its website and social media."
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