The founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, Nicholas Negroponte, is defending one of its directors for accepting a donation from Jeffrey Epstein, adding that he told the director he should accept the money — despite knowing of Epstein’s previous underage prostitution conviction — because he thought Epstein “repented.”
The founder of MIT’s Media Lab, Nicholas Negroponte, is defending lab director Joi Ito for accepting money from disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, according to a report by the Boston Globe. Negroponte said that he told Ito “he should” accept Epstein’s money, added that he would do so again today, “based on what we knew at the time.”
“I wanted somebody to speak up for the incredible job [Ito] has done,” said Negroponte in an email to the Boston Globe. “It is hard work, day after day, and he has done very well.”
Negroponte also noted that his own relationship with the now-deceased financier dates back to the 1990’s, and that he was aware of Epstein having served jail time for soliciting a minor for prostitution when he advised Ito to accept the money.
“We all knew he went to jail for soliciting underage prostitution,” said Negroponte. “But we thought he served his term and repented. I even discussed this new leaf with him.”
“Yes, we are embarrassed and regret taking his money,” conceded Negroponte, adding that he was surprised to hear of the recent revelations that Epstein was involved in the sex trafficking of dozens of minors.
Ito — who reportedly met Epstein in 2013 — mentioned during his public apology that he had traveled to Epstein’s homes and accepted money from him for both the research center, as well as for Ito’s personal investments.
The director now says that he will return the money he received from Epstein for his personal investments, as well as will raise additional funds in order to match what Epstein gave to the Media Lab, so that the money can be donated to nonprofit organizations working with survivors of human trafficking.
But not everybody appears satisfied with Ito’s announcement.
In response to the controversy, one well-known professor and one visiting scholar have announced that they will quit the lab, while MIT students demand a better explanation of Ito’s ties to Epstein, which has already been described as an “extensive personal and professional” relationship.
It was also reported that the Media Lab’s “civic justice” leader Ethan Zuckerman has decided to resign over the lab’s connection to Epstein.
“I am ashamed of my institution today and starting the hard work of figuring out how to leave the Lab while taking care of my students and staff,” said Zuckerman, according to the Boston Globe. “I no longer feel I can continue working on issues of social justice under the banner of the Media Lab.”
Conversely, more than 200 students, faculty, alumni, and others have signed a petition, reportedly in support of Ito.
MIT is not the only institution of higher learning to have fallen under scrutiny for its ties to Epstein. Harvard University, for example, has also received donations from him, but unlike Ito, Harvard refused to return the money it accepted from the financier accused of maintaining a “pedophile island” in the Caribbean.
University president L. Rafael Reif says MIT will create a group to look into “the facts around the Epstein donations and identify any lessons for the future, to review our current processes and to advise me on appropriate ways we might improve them,” according to the Boston Globe.
The report added that it was unable to verify exactly how much of Epstein’s money had been directed toward both the Media Lab and Ito’s personal investments, but noted that MIT said it had received $800,000 from Epstein over two decades.