The director of MIT’s Media Lab, Joichi Ito, stepped down on Saturday after his and the research institution’s extensive ties to late financier and accused pedophile Jeffrey Epstein were exposed, the New York Times reported.
In an email to MIT provost Martin A. Schmidt, Ito wrote, “After giving the matter a great deal of thought over the past several days and weeks, I think that it is best that I resign as director of the media lab and as a professor and employee of the Institute, effective immediately... While this chapter is truly difficult, I am confident the lab will persevere.”
Epstein died in custody at Metropolitan Correctional Centre’s last month while awaiting trial on federal sex trafficking charges involving dozens of victims and allegations and rumours that others in his jet-setting social circle were involved. Authorities ruled the death a suicide.
On Friday, the New Yorker published an explosive exposé showing that the Media Lab accepted much more in donations from Epstein — who was known to be a convicted sex offender following a controversial 2008 plea bargain deal with prosecutors, but made a point of ingratiating himself with members of the scientific community with promises of funding — than it had publicly admitted.
The New Yorker also published emails showing that the Media Lab under Ito had tried to conceal funding it had received from Epstein, as well as sizeable donations from others that Epstein solicited on the lab’s behalf; the magazine alleged these efforts to hide Epstein’s contributions to the Media Lab were so well known that Ito’s staff referred to the financier as “Voldemort or ‘he who must not be named.’”
In the past week, the Times wrote, Ito had admitted to “taking $US525,000 ($767,483) of Mr. Epstein’s money for the lab, as well as $US1.2 ($2) million for his personal investment funds.”
The New Yorker reported that in total, Epstein was internally credited with “securing at least $US7.5 ($11) million in donations for the lab, including two million dollars from [Microsoft founder Bill Gates] and $US5.5 ($8) million from [investor Leon Black], gifts the emails describe as ‘directed’ by Epstein or made at his behest.” (A spokesperson for Gates told the Times on Saturday that there was no “business partnership or personal relationship” between the two men, adding that claims Epstein had “directed any programmatic or personal grant making” for Gates was false..)
Ito had faced calls to step down, including announcements from staff that they would be resigning over the matter. Though he apologised for accepting Epstein’s money at a meeting last week, one of the Media Lab’s co-founders, Nicholas Negroponte, reportedly stood up near the end of the meeting and said he had advised Ito to take the funding and would make the decision again.
Negroponte’s remarks were widely seen as making the already considerable tensions over Ito’s conduct much worse.
Ito has also stepped down from his roles on the New York Times Company Board of Directors, as well as the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation, the Times reported.
MIT President L. Rafael Reif wrote in a letter to the school on Saturday that he was aware of the “deeply disturbing allegations about the engagement between individuals at the Media Lab and Jeffrey Epstein,” adding that the circumstances “demand an immediate, thorough and independent investigation.”
Reif wrote that MIT was seeking outside counsel to conduct that inquiry, adding that “We are actively assessing how best to improve our policies, processes and procedures to fully reflect MIT’s values and prevent such mistakes in the future.”