- The Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced that its Media Lab and a professor received $800,000 total from foundations run by Jeffrey Epstein, a financier who was arrested in July on charges of sex trafficking and died by suicide in his prison cell earlier this month.
- MIT is launching a probe into the donations and is reviewing its process for accepting gifts, President L. Rafael Reif wrote in a letter to the campus community. The university will donate "an amount equal to the funds MIT received" from Epstein to a charity for his victims or other victims of sexual abuse, he added.
- Reports have surfaced that other institutions have ties to Epstein, who frequently funded scientific research, including Arizona State and Harvard universities.
Crisis-management experts say when a scandal hits a college it is critical campus leaders immediately issue a statement — including an apology if warranted — and outline the steps it will take to address the larger issue.
Although MIT has taken those actions, it's not the first time the university has been linked to Epstein. In 2015, MIT denied it accepted money from Epstein after he claimed to provide funding to the Media Lab to teach computer programming to kids, Reuters reported at the time.
And its apology comes as more universities catch flak for accepting funding from controversial sources.
Last year, several universities, including MIT, reviewed their ties to Saudi Arabia in light of that country's alleged role in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. And other institutions have been criticized for having contracts with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and private prisons.
Reif noted that MIT faculty are "not on their own" when accepting funding for research. "[T]heir decisions about gifts are always subject to longstanding Institute processes and principles," he said. "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."
Epstein made the contributions through his foundations over the course of two decades to fund the work of the Media Lab and of one of the university's mechanical engineering professors.
Last week, Media Lab Director Joi Ito apologized in a statement posted on MIT's website, disclosing that he green-lit the donations from Epstein and allowed him to invest in his tech startups.
He stressed that he "never saw any evidence of the horrific acts" accused of Epstein. Court cases against Epstein and his estate allege he exploited underage girls and young women through an intricate sex abuse and trafficking network. He pleaded guilty to soliciting prostitution from a minor in 2008 after striking a sweetheart deal with prosecutors, the Miami Herald first reported.
"I take full responsibility for my error in judgment," Ito wrote. "I am deeply sorry to the survivors, to the Media Lab, and to the MIT community for bringing such a person into our network." Two Media Lab scholars said they are cutting ties with the institute in the wake of the announcement.
This week, MIT professor Seth Lloyd also apologized to Epstein's victims in a post on Medium. Lloyd said he accepted grants from Epstein to fund his research even after the financier went to jail for the 2008 conviction. "These were professional as well as moral failings," he wrote. It wasn't until 2018, he said, that he realized "the shocking extent of the harm" Mr. Epstein had done.