Two academics to leave Media Lab over Epstein ties

Zuckerman says it’s hard to do his work ‘with a straight face in a place that violated its own values so clearly’

Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media, and J. Nathan Matias PhD ’17, a visiting scholar, are planning to leave the Media Lab by the end of this academic year over recent revelations that the lab and its director received funding from Jeffrey Epstein, the late financier accused of sex trafficking.  

“[T]he work my group does focuses on social justice and on the inclusion of marginalized individuals and points of view,”  Zuckerman wrote in a Medium post Tuesday. 

“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,” Zuckerman continued. 

Epstein donated $50,000 to MIT in 2012, as The Tech previously reported. He also gave money directly to the Media Lab; Director Joi Ito released an apology Aug. 15 for receiving funding from Epstein for the lab — as well as for Ito’s own technology startup investment funds. 

Matias, who is also in the Center for Civic Media, wrote in a separate Medium post Wednesday that his work includes “research on protecting women and other vulnerable people online from abuse and harassment,” and so he “cannot with integrity do that from a place with the kind of relationship that the Media Lab has had with Epstein.”

Zuckerman and Matias both highlighted accusations against Media Lab co-founder Marvin Minsky in their posts. One of Epstein’s alleged victims, Virginia Giuffre, testified that she was told to have sex with Minsky as a teenager, according to recently released court documents. Minsky died in 2016. 

Zuckerman noted in his post that he did not have any involvement with Epstein, and he declined to meet with Epstein when Ito asked in 2014. Matias also wrote that he was not previously aware of Ito’s relationship with Epstein.

“My first priority is taking care of my students and staff, who shouldn’t have to suffer because [Ito] made a bad decision and I decided I couldn’t live with it,” Zuckerman wrote. Zuckerman does not currently have another university to go to or a job offer.

Matias wrote that he has a “good home” to relocate his MIT research to, as he is a new faculty member at Cornell University. 

Matias added that he “unequivocally support[s]” Zuckerman’s decision and will support him and his students and staff in their transition.

Zuckerman and Ito declined The Tech’s requests for further comment. Matias did not respond as of press time.