MIT President L. Rafael Reif has admitted that he personally signed off on a donation to the research university from Jeffrey Epstein years after the billionaire pedophile’s conviction, sent a thank-you letter and approved the Media Lab head to cover up the source of the money.
“It is now clear that senior members of the administration were aware of gifts the Media Lab received between 2013 and 2017 from Jeffrey Epstein’s foundations,” Reif said in a statement Thursday.
Joi Ito, the former head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s MIT Media Lab resigned on Saturday and quit the boards of several organizations after reports emerged that the lab had accepted and covered up donations from Epstein.
In a letter to the MIT community, Reif said that his administration was not only aware of gifts the Media Lab received between 2013 and 2017 from Epstein’s foundations but directed Ito to cover them up.
“In 2013, when members of my senior team learned that the Media Lab had received the first of the Epstein gifts, they reached out to speak with Joi Ito. He asked for permission to retain this initial gift, and members of my senior team allowed it. They knew in general terms about Epstein’s history – that he had been convicted and had served a sentence and that Joi believed that he had stopped his criminal behavior,” Reif wrote.
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Years after Epstein’s predatory behavior and trafficking of underage girls became public, meetings with him continued showing up on Ito’s public calendar, Quartz reported: “Epstein’s name was marked only as ‘JE,’ although full names were used for everyone else. And people at the Media Lab reportedly referred to the donor internally as ‘he who shall not be named.’”
Ito resigned and apologized to members of the MIT Media Lab, a research lab that grew out of the university’s School of Architecture.
“I want to apologize again for my errors in judgment,” Ito wrote in an email provided to The Washington Post by a lab grad student. “I have spent the last days and weeks listening to all of you and I want to thank you (for) allowing me (to) begin to try to make amends. After giving the matter a great deal of thought, I have chosen to resign as Director of the Media Lab and as a Professor and employee of the Institute, effective immediately.”
MIT President Reif said in his letter that members of his team believed it was important that Epstein not use gifts to MIT for publicity or to enhance his own reputation. “They asked Joi to agree to make clear to Epstein that he could not put his name on them publicly. These guidelines were provided to and apparently followed by the Media Lab,” Reif wrote.
Reif said he was at a meeting with his senior team where Epstein’s crimes and donations were discussed.
Reif’s statement on Thursday summarized the preliminary findings of an outside law firm, Goodwin Procter, investigating Epstein’s connections to the Media Lab.
“The Goodwin Procter team has found a copy of a standard acknowledgment letter thanking Jeffrey Epstein for a gift…. as far as we know now, the first gift received at MIT after Epstein’s conviction. I apparently signed this letter on August 16, 2012, about six weeks into my presidency. Although I do not recall it, it does bear my signature.”
MIT, an institute that exercised broad influence over the technology industry, has been mired in revelations about close ties between the MIT Media Lab and Epstein.
“The controversy at MIT over funding received from various morally bankrupt elites reflects a larger reckoning happening at universities, museums, and other institutions over billionaire philanthropy,” Cynthia Hua wrote in a guest column for MIT’s student newspaper, The Tech.
Arwa Mboya, 25, a second-year grad student at the Media Lab, wrote a guest column in The Tech on Aug. 29, calling for Ito to resign.
“I am calling for the immediate resignation of MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito because of his deep connections with Epstein, his lack of leadership explaining his involvement, and the lack of transparency about the extent of his interactions with Epstein,” Mboya wrote. “Not only is this issue personal to me, but it is personal to women everywhere.”
Ito’s resignation was necessary for the greater good, Mboya suggested. “This is not an MIT issue, and this is not a Joi Ito issue. This is an international issue where a global network of powerful individuals have used their influence to secure their privilege at the expense of women’s bodies and lives.”
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