Universities, museums and galleries have entered an era in which naming the philanthropists who support their institution could bring a troubling effect on their reputation. Toxic donations are now common, but tend to spark furor among people working for, associated with or studying in institutions that accept donations from philanthropists with shady reputation.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is no exception, as information about Jeffrey Epstein’s nearly $10 million toxic donations to the prestigious institution came out in the open. The scandal sparked outrage, particularly among the more than 60 leading female faculty members of MIT. for which they jointly signed a letter addressed to MIT President L Rafael Reif.
The letter described the decision by MIT to solicit, accept and then conceal donations from convicted sex offender and sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein as “profoundly disturbing;” fueling heated discussions during a two-hour faculty meeting.
Furor Over Epstein’s Toxic Donation Spawned More Revelations and Resignations
In the wake of the storm created by Epstein’s toxic donations, resignations and more revelations transpired.
MIT’s Media Lab reportedly received the bulk of Epstein’s toxic financing, prompting Media Lab Director Joi Ito to resign.
Neri Oxman, a Media Lab professor apologized, especially to her students who unwillingly and unknowingly, have become involved in the scandal. She said she regrets having accepted the $125,000 funds that they received in 2015. She said the awarding of the funds came with instructions to keep the donation confidential to avoid enhancing Epstein’s reputation through his financier-association with MIT
Richard Stallman computer scientist and male faculty member, as well as founder of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) also resigned after a call for his removal was put forward by MIT graduate, Selam Jie Ganoa. The latter found Stallman’s response to the students’ protest over MIT’s acceptance of donations from Epstein, offensive.
Through his website, Stallman wrote that the 17-year old who mentioned in court about a former MIT cognitive scientist to whom Epstein had sent her, could have presented herself as an entirely willing victim. Stallman said that Marvin Minsky, the now deceased MIT scientist mentioned by the minor, may or may not have known that she was coerced by Epstein to have sex with him.
Stallman rationalized further that it is morally foolish to define ‘rape’ in a manner that depends on minor details such as the country in which the incident transpired, or whether the victim’s age is 17 or 18 years old.
Nicholas Negroponte, MIT Media Lab co-founder who had accepted over $500,000 of Epstein’s dirty money, gave what was reportedly the most disheartening statement. Negroponte said that even if the clock winds back, he will still accept the toxic funds.
Female Faculty’s Letter Questions the Decision Making Processes Over Donations
“How can MIT’s leadership be trusted when it seems that sex trafficking and child prostitution can be ignored in exchange for a financial contribution?”
This was the question posed by the more than 60 female faculty members who signed the letter addressed to MIT President L Rafael Reif.
In a face-to-face response during the faculty meeting, Reif acknowledged that the world of technology has indeed ignored and devalued the contributions, experiences and lives of women and young girls.
Reif humbly stated that it is now clear that such culture has prevailed in MIT for far too long, which made the acceptance of Epstein’s money possible. In correcting such mistakes, Reif announced that there will be a review of how the university evaluates its donors in order to determine the policies that require change.