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  • Sep 10, 2019

Mit Media Lab Director Resigns Over Epstein Ties

JOI ITO has stepped down from his post as director of the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge,

On September 7, Joi Ito, stepped down from his position as director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, over his connection to the late financier and accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. 

Ito had published a short apology on the Lab’s website on August 15 clarifying his relationship with Epstein, who had donated to the organization as well as to Ito’s private funds for seeding tech startup companies. In that statement, Ito claimed he would donate “an amount equivalent to the donations the Media Lab received from Epstein” to nonprofits supporting sex trafficking victims, and return the money he received for his personal venture capital pools. Yet a damning report published on September 6 in The New Yorker claims that “the financial entanglement revealed in documents goes well beyond what has been described in public statements by MIT and Mr. Ito.” According to the exposé, emails, records, and conversations with the Lab’s current and former staff reveal that the organization continued to accept donations from the disgraced financier after accusations of pedophilia and sex trafficking had been brought against him in court. The Lab concealed the gifts by marking them as anonymous. In one email regarding a donation from Epstein—a screenshot of which was published in The New Yorker—Ito wrote to a colleague, “Make sure this gets accounted for as anonymous.”

In addition to departing the Lab, Ito has vacated his posts on the boards of the MacArthur Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the New York Times Company, as well as terminated his visiting professorship at Harvard University.

Responding to The New Yorker’s report, MIT president L. Rafael Reif stated that the university will engage a law firm to conduct an independent investigation. He added: “The acceptance of the Epstein gifts involved a mistake of judgment. We are actively assessing how best to improve our policies, processes and procedures to fully reflect MIT’s values and prevent such mistakes in the future.”

Evelyn Goh is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.

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