The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is reviewing about $800,000 it received from foundations controlled by accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, MIT’s president said.
The school also will donate that amount to a charity benefiting Epstein’s victims or other sexual abuse victims, President L. Rafael Reif said in an email.
The review will focus on the facts around the donations, made over 20 years, and how the school handles contributions and can improve that process, Reif said.
Epstein was awaiting trial on charges of sex trafficking involving underage girls when he killed himself by hanging in a New York jail cell this month.
“I offer a profound and humble apology” to the victims on behalf of the administration, Reif said. “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.”
The donations went to the MIT Media Lab or Seth Lloyd, a professor of mechanical engineering, according to Reif’s email.
Two researchers, Ethan Zuckerman, the director of Center for Civic Media, and visiting scholar J. Nathan Matias, said in separate posts on Medium that they are resigning from MIT after finding out that the Media Lab had accepted funding from Epstein.
“My logic was simple: the work my group does focuses on social justice and on the inclusion of marginalized individuals and points of view,” Zuckerman wrote in his Medium post and on his blog. “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.”
Matias wrote that part of his work is research “on protecting women and other vulnerable people online from abuse and harassment.”
“I cannot with integrity do that from a place with the kind of relationship that the Media Lab has had with Epstein. It’s that simple,” Matias said.
Ito wrote in his apology that he permitted Epstein’s donations, and that he also allowed Epstein to Invest in Ito’s venture capital funds that invest in start-up tech companies.
The Media Lab director said he met Epstein in 2013 at a conference, and that he “was never involved in, never heard him talk about, and never saw any evidence of the horrific acts that he was accused of.”
Ito said he also will raise funds that match Epstein’s donations and donate them to nonprofits for trafficking victims. He said he will “return” the money Epstein invested in his funds.
In his apology to Epstein’s victims, Lloyd said he had “committed financial resources” to help the victims and other sexual abuse and trafficking victims.
“By not listening to your voices, I participated in a system of privilege and entitlement that protected a powerful abuser and that failed you,” Lloyd wrote.