The president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from accused serial sexual abuser Jeffrey Epstein over two decades, admitted “a mistake of judgment,” addressing the matter in a letter to students and faculty Thursday night.
L. Rafael Reif said the university had received about $800,000 through Epstein’s foundations, donated either to the MIT Media Lab, a prominent research center, or to physicist Seth Lloyd.
“To my great regret, despite following the processes that have served MIT well for many years, in this instance we made a mistake of judgment,” Reif wrote, before announcing that he is launching an investigation into Epstein’s donations to determine how the school can improve its policies and procedures on donations.
Epstein, accused of sexually assaulting scores of women, some as young as when they were 14, died by suicide earlier this month while awaiting trial in Manhattan. In 2008, he pleaded guilty to soliciting prostitution from a minor but received a plea deal allowing him lenient punishment.
His most recent arrest, catalyzed by investigative reporting from the Miami Herald, has forced an examination into his connections with numerous powerful people, institutions and charitable causes he backed.
The fallout over Epstein’s alleged abuse has roiled MIT over the last few weeks.
Two major researchers at the MIT Media Lab, Ethan Zuckerman and Nathan Matias, said this week that they are cutting ties with the lab, criticizing Director Joi Ito for not disclosing both the lab’s and his own personal ties to Epstein.
In addition to accepting Epstein’s donations to the Media Lab, Ito also visited his homes, and the financier contributed to Ito’s startups.
“As the scale of Joi’s involvement with Epstein became clear to me, I began to understand that I had to end my relationship with the MIT Media Lab,” Zuckerman wrote earlier this week. “My logic was simple: the work my group does focuses on social justice and on the inclusion of marginalized individuals and points of view. It’s hard to do that work with a straight face in a place that violated its own values so clearly in working with Epstein and in disguising that relationship.”
Ito and Lloyd have issued public apologies for their ties to Epstein.
“I want you to know that in all of my interactions with Epstein, I was never involved in, never heard him talk about, and never saw any evidence of the horrific acts that he was accused of,” Ito wrote last week. “That said, I take full responsibility for my error in judgment. I am deeply sorry to the survivors, to the Media Lab, and to the MIT community for bringing such a person into our network.”
“I appreciate their efforts to take individual responsibility for their past decisions,” Reif wrote Thursday, referring to their apologies. “However, I believe the situation also requires a broader and deeper institutional response.”
Reif offered “a profound and humble apology” to Epstein’s victims, acknowledging that “with hindsight, we recognize with shame and distress that we allowed MIT to contribute to the elevation of his reputation, which in turn served to distract from his horrifying acts. No apology can undo that.”
He also announced that the university plans to donate the equivalent of Epstein’s donations “to an appropriate charity that benefits his victims or other victims of sexual abuse.”
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.