L. Rafael Reif, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, apologized Thursday for donations the university had accepted over the years from deceased sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and pledged to give an equal amount of money to groups that help victims of sexual abuse.
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“MIT offers faculty great freedom in conducting and building support for their research; that freedom is and always will be a precious value of our community,” Reif said. “Yet it is important to understand that faculty are not ‘on their own;’ their decisions about gifts are always subject to longstanding Institute processes and principles. 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 said about $800,000 had come from foundations controlled by Epstein. The money all went to either the MIT Media Lab or professor Seth Lloyd.
Both Lloyd, a professor of mechanical engineering, and Joi Ito, director of the Media Lab, posted their own apologies online.
“The job of a scientist is to look for the truth, and the job of a teacher is to help people to empower themselves,” Lloyd said. “I failed to do my job on both counts.”
Epstein gave to both after he had already pleaded guilty in 2008 to solicitation of prostitution from a minor.
“I take full responsibility for my error in judgment,” Ito said. “I am deeply sorry to the survivors, to the Media Lab, and to the MIT community for bringing such a person into our network.”
Reif’s apology came after Ethan Zuckerman, an associate professor at MIT, announced he was resigning over the Media Lab’s relationship with Epstein.
“My logic was simple: the work my group does focuses on social justice and the inclusion of marginalized individuals and points of view,” Zuckerman wrote in a blog post this week. “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.”
Epstein killed himself earlier this month while being held in a Manhattan jail on charges of sex trafficking dozens of girls as young as 14.
Reif said MIT will review its processes around donations.
“With hindsight, we recognize with shame and distress that we allowed MIT to contribute to the elevation of [Epstein’s] reputation, which in turn served to distract from his horrifying acts,” Reif said. “No apology can undo that. In response, we will commit an amount equal to the funds from any Epstein foundation to an appropriate charity that benefits his victims or other victims of sexual abuse.”