A group of leading academics have signed a letter in support of MIT Media Lab Director Joi Ito, as MIT takes into account the disclosure that it has accepted around $ 800,000 in funds of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. The letter tries to get support for Ito, who has apologized for accepting funds from the now deceased financier.
Epstein had a reputation for cultivating relationships with scientists and funded many scientific projects, including some at MIT. He was also associated with deceased MIT professor and AI pioneer Marvin Minsky, who was recently accused of having sex with one of the minor victims of Epstein. Epstein also gave money to the Media Lab, among other settings.
After the new charges, the support of Epstein has become a source of public shame for the Media Lab. Ito published an apology acknowledge on August 15 that the MIT Media Lab received money from the foundations of Epstein. "I knew about these gifts and these funds were received with my permission," Ito wrote, adding, "I also allowed him to invest in several of my funds investing in technical start-up companies outside of MIT."
In the apology, he promised to "collect an amount equal to the donations that the Media Lab received from Epstein" and send it to non-profit organizations aimed at supporting survivors of human trafficking. He also promised to return the money that Epstein had invested in his funds.
But the revelation had already caused much disagreement within the Media Lab. On August 10, Ethan Zuckerman, the director of the Media Lab's Center for Civic Media resigned. In a Medium message published later, Zuckerman quoted Ito & # 39; s acceptance of Epstein funds as the reason he resigned.
“The work that my group does focuses on social justice and on the inclusion of marginalized individuals and perspectives. It's hard to do that work with a straight face in a place that so clearly violates its own values in working with Epstein and in concealing that relationship. "Zuckerman wrote.
But as the pressure on Ito increases, some members of the MIT community have begun to express public support for him. A new site registered on Monday has posted a public message of support for Ito, signed by more than 100 people so far. The letter reads in part:
This is the time to review how the principles of an organization are expressed through its financing process – and to explore how we can build mechanisms together to ensure that our fundraising reflects our core values.
However, the conversation has become increasingly pessimistic and the media has largely focused their attention on this negativity. As such, it is our responsibility as members of the larger Media Lab community to add our voice to the conversation. We have experienced Joi's integrity first hand and testify to his overwhelmingly positive impact on our lives – and sincerely hope that he will remain our visionary director for many years to come.
A number of prominent professors and thinkers involved with MIT and Harvard are listed as signatories, including Harvard Law professor and Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig, Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand, Media Lab co-founder Nicholas Negroponte, Harvard law professor and EFF board member Jonathan Zittrain and pioneer in synthetic biology George Church (who too had ties with Epstein). You can read the entire letter, and see the list of signatories here.
Prosecutors are still investigating claims against the potential co-conspirators of Epstein, although they no longer file a complaint against Epstein himself, who died in prison on August 10. Sixteen of the victims of Epstein testified this week.
"The settlement should not end, it must continue," said Virginia Roberts Giuffre, one of Epstein's prosecutors, according to the Washington Post. “He was not acting alone. We, the victims, know that. & # 39;