President of MIT admits approving Jeffrey Epstein donation

  • University acknowledged 2012 gift from disgraced financier
  • Rafael Reif: ‘We could and should have asked more questions’

The president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has said he approved a donation – and signed a thank-you note – to the sex offender Jeffrey Epstein four years after the disgraced financier was convicted for soliciting prostitution from a minor.

In a letter to the MIT community on Thursday, Rafael Reif said he signed the letter thanking Epstein for a gift to faculty member Seth Lloyd in 2012, soon after he had been made president of the university.

“I am aware that we could and should have asked more questions about Jeffrey Epstein,” Reif wrote. “We did not take time to understand the gravity of Epstein’s offenses or the harm to his young victims.”

Reif’s acknowledgment is likely to deepen the turmoil at the MIT, which has been shaken by news of extensive links between its prestigious Media Lab and Epstein, who killed himself in a New York jail cell after being arrested on sex-trafficking charges in July. His death has triggered a nationwide series of recriminations due to Epstein’s high society connections, involving rich and powerful people from politics, the law, journalism and academia.

Reif’s letter is the first acknowledgment that Epstein’s donations were known of at the highest level of the university, and not only at its Media Lab spin-off.

Earlier this week, Joi Ito, the head of the Lab, resigned his post after it was revealed that he had solicited donations from Epstein despite MIT listing Epstein as “disqualified” in its donor database.

Ito stepped down after whistleblower Signe Swenson revealed that contacts between MIT and Epstein were more frequent, and the gifts the faculty received via Epstein greater, than previously known.

In his letter on Thursday, Reif said senior members of his team “knew in general terms about Epstein’s history – that he had been convicted and had served a sentence and that Joi believed that he had stopped his criminal behavior”.

Reif added that senior members of his administration were also aware of gifts Epstein made to MIT’s Media Lab between 2013 and 2017, and had required that Epstein not make them public.

“I am aware that we could and should have asked more questions about Jeffrey Epstein and about his interactions with Joi,” Reif wrote. “We did not see through the limited facts we had, and we did not take time to understand the gravity of Epstein’s offenses or the harm to his young victims.”

The latest development comes soon after MIT hired an outside law firm, Goodwin Procter, to review the circumstances surrounding Epstein’s donations.

Reif wrote that he took “responsibility for those errors” and that the university “have already identified flaws in our processes that need to be addressed”.

Contributor

Edward Helmore

The GuardianTramp

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