President Reif apologizes to Epstein victims

MIT received about $800,000 from Epstein or foundations controlled by Epstein

President L. Rafael Reif apologized to the nearly two dozen women accusing the late financier Jeffrey Epstein of sex trafficking in an email to the MIT community Aug. 23. Over a 20 year span, MIT received about $800,000 from Epstein or foundations controlled by Epstein, Reif wrote. 

Additionally, Provost Martin Schmidt PhD ’88 will convene a working group to examine institutional procedures regarding funding sources. 

The Tech reported Aug. 15 that Epstein Interests, one of Epstein’s foundations, donated $50,000 to MIT in 2012. 

“With hindsight, we recognize with shame and distress that we allowed MIT to contribute to the elevation of his reputation, which in turn served to distract from his horrifying acts. No apology can undo that,” Reif wrote.

All funds went to either the MIT Media Lab or Seth Lloyd, professor of mechanical engineering. 

Reif promised to commit equivalent funds to a charity that benefits Epstein’s victims and other victims of sexual abuse. Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, and Lloyd also apologized to Epstein’s victims and promised to direct money to survivors of sexual abuse and trafficking in public statements.

Lloyd first met Epstein at a dinner for scientists and their supporters in 2004. Lloyd wrote that he was “deeply disturbed” when he learned of Epstein’s arrest and subsequent conviction. 

Lloyd then visited Epstein during Epstein’s prison term. “Mr. Epstein expressed remorse for his actions and assured me that he would not re-offend,” Lloyd wrote. “I continued to acknowledge Mr. Epstein’s support in my scientific papers, and after his release, I resumed attending the discussions that Mr. Epstein convened with other scientists.” 

Lloyd accepted a grant from Epstein in 2012, and another in 2017. He described his acceptances as “professional as well as moral failings.” 

In a statement to The Tech, Schmidt wrote, “We understand these gifts were accepted utilizing MIT’s normal, internal processes of acceptance and processing of gifts, so we need to look at those processes and consider whether there are lessons to be learned.” 

Schmidt has not yet decided who will comprise the working group or how long the review will take.

The MIT community has had mixed responses to the repercussions of Epstein’s ties to MIT. 

In a comment on Lloyd’s apology statement on Medium, Emanuel Goldman PhD ’72 wrote, “I don’t think Lloyd has anything to apologize for. … That the donor may have been a sexual predator does not taint the money. The donation doesn’t rehabilitate Epstein from his crimes.” 

“Epstein may have been a sexual predator, but that doesn’t alter that he may have had some good in him as well, reflected by his support of research,” Goldman continued. 

In contrast, Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media, and J. Nathan Matias PhD ’17, a visiting scholar in the Center for Civic Media, have decided to leave the Media Lab due to its ties with Epstein. 

Lloyd declined The Tech’s request for comment.