Richard Stallman resigns from MIT after facing backlash over Minsky comments

Stallman originally emailed CSAIL community questioning whether Minsky was aware of sex trafficking

Richard Stallman, computer scientist and open software advocate, resigned Sept. 16 from his positions as visiting scientist at CSAIL and as president and board director of the Free Software Foundation. His resignation was “due to pressure on MIT and me over a series of misunderstandings and mischaracterizations” regarding an email he sent to the CSAIL community mailing list Sept. 12 about the Jeffrey Epstein case, Stallman wrote in a blog post on his website. 

Virginia Giuffre previously accused Jeffrey Epstein, the late financier, of directing her to have sex with AI pioneer and MIT professor Marvin Minsky. In Stallman’s original email, he wrote, “All I know she [Giuffre] said about Minsky is that Epstein directed her to have sex with Minsky. That does not say whether Minsky knew that she was coerced.“

Stallman continued, “We can imagine many scenarios, but the most plausible scenario is that she presented herself to him as entirely willing.” Stallman also questioned whether or not Minsky’s behavior should be characterized as “sexual assault,” which he described as a “slippery” term.

Following this email, Selam Jie Gano ’18 called for Stallman’s removal in a blog post published Sept. 12. “I know, now, that if prominent technology institutions won’t start firing their problematic men left right and center, we will do nothing. Ever,” Gano wrote. “Long before this incident, Stallman was contributing to an uncomfortable environment for women at MIT in a very real and visceral way.”

Mani Mengiste G, an organizer of the MIT Students Against War rally that took place Sept. 13 protesting the Media Lab’s ties to Jeffrey Epstein, said in an interview with The Tech, “It feels like there are members of the community that hold very disturbing views about women, and it’s very difficult [for women] to carry on with their day-to-day work knowing that they are right next door to someone who carries those very disturbing views.”

Stallman sent a follow-up email to the CSAIL community Sept. 14, saying that the media coverage misunderstood him. “Headlines say that I defended Epstein. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Stallman wrote. “I’m sorry for that hurt. I wish I could have prevented the misunderstanding.”

Stallman did not respond to a request for comment from The Tech.

Kristina Chen contributed reporting.