Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics Awarded Major Grant to Support Burgeoning Field of Public Interest Technology

November 10, 2020

The Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics was awarded a Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN) Challenge grant to further support the critical new field of public interest technology. The Center for Ethics was awarded funding to pursue the project, "Evaluating and Assessing Tech Ethics Education," which will evaluate and assess public interest technology education and pedagogy in collaboration with partners at Stanford University and New Jersey Institute of Technology. They joined 24 other colleges and universities across the country who received funding to continue their pathfinding work in the creation of this new field. You can find the full list of 2020 grantees here. 

"PIT educators lack tools to evaluate their pedagogy,” says Jeffrey Behrends, Lecturer on Philosophy and the Center for Ethics' Director of Ethics and Technology Initiatives. “This award will yield first-of-their-kind evaluation tools that can be deployed across diverse institutions for the improvement of tech ethics pedagogy. This will help instructors better understand whether their approaches to tech ethics education are likely to advance their pedagogical goals, in part by illuminating how students perceive and respond to them.” Behrends will lead the project with co-PI, Danielle Allen, James Bryant Conant University Professor. 

As the country continues to face unprecedented challenges to our public health, democratic institutions, social norms and economic well-being, we have a critical choice to make. Will we use technology to develop a strong, unified response to COVID-19 and future crises, make our economy and democracy more accessible and equitable and create a country and systems that work for us all? Or will we use technology to perpetuate and even expand unequal and unjust policies. The work done at the Center for Ethics and partner institutions across the network is advancing the use of technology for public benefit. We are training the next generation of technologists to not only be innovative but also responsible stewards of the incredible potential of technology.  

The Public Interest Technology University Network is a partnership of colleges and universities convened by New America, the Ford Foundation, and the Hewlett Foundation. The network is dedicated to building the nascent field of public interest technology through curriculum development, faculty research opportunities, and experiential learning programs, in order to inspire a new generation of civic-minded technologists and policy leaders. 

“Our work points to how important it is to make public interest technology a permanent and vital pathway in higher education,” said Anne-Marie Slaughter, President of New America. “Public interest technologists are at the forefront of societal change and progress, and our students are leading us toward a more prosperous, more just, and more collaborative future. Institutional members of the University Network are already making big changes in our world. For example, our PIT-UN practitioners and students are among the many people working on Covid-19 testing, tracing, and response. In addition, our network members are working on solving the problems of environmental social injustices. I look forward to hearing more about both topics and the solutions our 2019 grantees have come up with at the 2020 Convening panel sessions.” 

“When we announced the creation of the University Network, I was thrilled to work with these wonderful institutions of higher education to advance and expand the field of public interest technology towards a more just technological future,” said Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation. “The projects supported through this most recent round of awards demonstrate just how innovative and driven the faculty, staff, and students within the University Network are in their commitment to ensuring technology is a force for public good.” 

The Public Interest Technology University Network and challenge grants are funded through the support of the Ford Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, Mastercard Impact Fund, with support from the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, The Raikes Foundation, Schmidt Futures, and The Siegel Family Endowment.