MIT Will Investigate Media Lab's Ties to Jeffrey Epstein Following Director's Resignation

Illustration for article titled MIT Will Investigate Media Lab's Ties to Jeffrey Epstein Following Director's Resignation
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On September 7, director of MIT’s Media Lab Joi Ito stepped down after many called for his resignation following years of accepting gifts from Jeffrey Epstein both for the lab and for his personal start-up investments. Now, the school will investigate those donations as well as attempts to conceal them.


Ito resigned less than 24 hours after the New Yorker detailed Media Lab’s attempts to downplay Epstein’s contributions because it had full knowledge of his 2008 conviction for solicitation of a minor. The report is in direct contradiction to a statement by Ito on Media Lab’s website in which Ito said he “never saw any evidence of the horrific acts that [Epstein] was accused of.” According to the New Yorker, Ito and others made a collective effort to hide the fact that Epstein’s money was funding the lab:

On Ito’s calendar, which typically listed the full names of participants in meetings, Epstein was identified only by his initials. Epstein’s direct contributions to the lab were recorded as anonymous. In September, 2014, Ito wrote to Epstein soliciting a cash infusion to fund a certain researcher, asking, ‘Could you re-up/top-off with another $100K so we can extend his contract another year?’ Epstein replied, ‘yes.’ Forwarding the response to a member of his staff, Ito wrote, ‘Make sure this gets accounted for as anonymous.’ Peter Cohen, the M.I.T. Media Lab’s Director of Development and Strategy at the time, reiterated, ‘Jeffrey money, needs to be anonymous. Thanks.’

Following Ito’s resignation, MIT’s president released a statement promising that the university would be hiring an independent law firm to conduct an investigation into the cover-up, according to The Guardian:

In a statement, MIT’s president, L Rafael Reif, called the allegations in the New Yorker story ‘deeply disturbing’ and ‘extremely serious’ and pledged that the university would conduct “an immediate, thorough and independent investigation”, which would be conducted by a “prominent law firm”.

The acceptance of the Epstein gifts involved a mistake of judgment,’ Reif wrote. The university was still assessing how to ‘prevent such mistakes in the future.’

Ito was also a member of The New York Times Company board of directors but has since resigned from that position as well. 



OK, I’m still not convinced this is a bad thing. I mean, the lying and lack of transparency is a bad thing, of course, but I’m not convinced that taking money from Epstein was wrong. As far as I can tell, the MIT Media Lab does good, important, innovative work for the most part, and it’s a net positive for society that work of that kind gets supported. That wouldn’t justify increasing the status and influence of a terrible person like Epstein, but it seems like that isn’t what happened here. The donations were anonymous, so Epstein wasn’t being glorified and celebrated for them, right? And it doesn’t look like the Media Lab provided Epstein with anything in return that would have in any way helped support his serial abuse. So why is it a bad thing that money went from a bad man to what seems like a decent cause?

This is an honest question. I’m quite prepared to accept that there’s an important moral angle I’m missing here.