Goodwin Procter investigation discovers letter signed by President Reif

Reif mentions judgement errors and emphasizes transparency

Law firm Goodwin Procter, which is investigating MIT’s financial ties to Jeffrey Epstein, has discovered a “standard acknowledgment letter” signed by President L. Rafael Reif August 2012 thanking Epstein for a donation to Professor Seth Lloyd. Reif disclosed the findings in an email to the MIT community Sept. 12 about Goodwin Procter’s “preliminary fact-finding.”

Reif wrote that the donation to Lloyd was “as far as we know now, the first gift received at MIT after Epstein’s conviction.”

Goodwin Procter also found that “senior members of the administration were aware of gifts the Media Lab received between 2013 and 2017 from Jeffrey Epstein’s foundations,” Reif wrote.

In an earlier email to the MIT community Sept. 9, Reif wrote that the MIT Corporation had commissioned Goodwin Procter to independently conduct a “thorough investigation of the facts surrounding Jeffrey Epstein’s interactions with MIT.” The law firm was instructed to “explore all donations” associated with Epstein and to ascertain “who at MIT may have been aware of the donations.”

In an interview with The Tech, Reif said that the investigation is expected to take about six weeks. The MIT Corporation’s executive committee will then decide the extent to which Goodwin Procter’s findings will be released to the MIT community. Reif said that he “would like all the information to come out” for the sake of transparency.

“What is clear is that there were judgment errors, and there were system errors, and I would like to know the details of how that happened,” Reif said.

“I appoint people to work with me and I feel responsible for all decisions being made in this place. I also feel responsible for the culture of MIT, in that I believe that the culture of MIT to some extent played a role in decision-making,” Reif said, alluding to last Wednesday’s Institute Faculty Meeting. At the meeting, several female faculty members suggested that gender inequality ingrained in MIT’s culture enabled Epstein’s relationship with the Institute.

Reif said his administration will address calls for Institute-wide cultural change with three central focuses: processes, principles based on the values of the MIT community, and culture. Reif said he is currently meeting with faculty to “figure out our processes of donor relations” and “make sure … we all agree we have a cultural issue that we have to address.”

Reif said he has asked Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 to “work with student leaders to organize some kind of student forum for me to listen to them.” He has also asked Vice President for Research Maria Zuber to “organize a conversation with members of the research staff” and Deputy Vice President Tony Sharon to “organize meetings with administrative staff.”

“A cultural issue is not just an issue of faculty, it’s an issue of students as well,” Reif continued. “I want to very deliberately listen to everybody, to hear them express their concerns.”

More broadly, Reif said the problem he hopes to address through Goodwin Procter’s investigation is not just a particular funding model for scientific research, but MIT’s ethical “principles of engaging with donors and the kind of donors we are going to be soliciting.”

“[Whoever] is going to give us money, whether it’s a country, or a government, or a donor, we need to understand what we want from these people and why we want these particular people to be the ones giving us money,” Reif said.

Reif concluded, “My sincere hope is that through all this pain, we’ll find the right way to proceed so that MIT not only doesn’t go through this kind of situation again, but will come out of it stronger than ever, with very clear moral principles that we practice and that we can be proud of.”

Goodwin Procter declined The Tech’s request for comment.