MIT admits top leadership involved in accepting Epstein money

As Harvard donates some Epstein money, MIT’s president concedes endorsing abusive financier

September 13, 2019
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Source: iStock

The scandal surrounding the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein has expanded at two top US universities, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology admitting top-level involvement in approving donations.

Harvard University, meanwhile, agreed to donate a small share of its Epstein-involved donations to organisations that support victims of human trafficking and sexual assault while promising more investigations into how university leaders courted the financier’s millions.

In a letter to the MIT community, the institute’s president, L. Rafael Reif, said “members of my senior team” learned in 2013 – long after Epstein’s 2008 guilty plea to a charge of procuring a teenage girl for prostitution – that MIT’s renowned Media Lab was receiving money from Epstein.

Professor Reif said records show he attended at least one meeting where the matter was discussed, and that he signed a “standard acknowledgment letter” in August 2012, six months after he took office, thanking Epstein for a financial gift.

Professor Reif said he did not recall either the letter or the meeting, records of which were discovered after MIT hired the law firm Goodwin Procter to investigate MIT’s its ties to Epstein.

The director of the MIT Media Lab, Joi Ito, resigned last week after The New Yorker published an article describing him as leading extensive efforts to hide some $1.7 million (£1.4 million) in donations from Epstein.

In his letter to the MIT community, Professor Reif said he “could and should have asked more questions” about the situation. “We did not see through the limited facts we had, and we did not take time to understand the gravity of Epstein’s offences or the harm to his young victims,” Professor Reif wrote. “I take responsibility for those errors.”

Epstein, a high-profile investor and convicted sex offender with ties to top political figures and celebrities in the US and abroad, died last month in an apparent jail suicide while awaiting prosecution on sex trafficking charges.

That pending prosecution concerned dozens of additional alleged victims identified since Epstein’s 2008 guilty plea. A former federal judge representing one alleged victim has contended that Alan Dershowitz, a prominent emeritus professor of law at Harvard who has written that statutory rape is an outdated concept, participated to some degree in Epstein’s activities. Professor Dershowitz has proclaimed his innocence.

Harvard, in a public letter from its president, Lawrence Bacow, said its ongoing investigation of the university’s ties to Epstein have identified nearly $9 million in donations – all prior to the 2008 plea.

“To date,” Dr Bacow wrote, “we have uncovered no gifts received from Epstein or his foundation following his guilty plea.”

The president said Harvard did learn that Stephen Kosslyn, a former Harvard professor of psychology and Epstein beneficiary, did designate Epstein a visiting fellow in the department of psychology in 2005. “We are seeking to learn more about the nature of that appointment from Professor Kosslyn, who no longer works at the university,” Dr Bacow wrote.

Harvard also will investigate the matter of gifts given to universities by donors at Epstein’s direction, Dr Bacow said.

All the Epstein money known to have been donated to Harvard appears to have been spent, Dr Bacow reported, with the exception of $186,000 designated to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. That money, he said, will now be donated to organisations that support victims of human trafficking and sexual assault.

The university’s student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, had called for such a donation earlier this week. While noting the “crucial” difference that Harvard apparently stopped accepting Epstein money after the 2008 guilty plea while MIT did not, the newspaper’s editorial board said Harvard needed to make clearer its distance from Epstein given his overt public association with the university.

Neither the editorial nor Dr Bacow’s statement directly referenced Professor Dershowitz, and a university spokesman did not respond to questions on his continued association with the university.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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