Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are demanding fundamental changes to the university’s funding practices following revelations that its Media Lab repeatedly took funding from convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Last Friday, more than 150 students, faculty and community members rallied on campus and marched to MIT President Rafael Reif’s office to demand his resignation.
Amanuella Mengiste is a graduate student and member of MIT Students Against War, the group behind the rally. She said the school’s administration initially claimed to be in the dark regarding Epstein’s close ties to the research lab.
“And then, last Friday, Ronan Farrow, Pulitzer-Prize-winning contributor for the New Yorker, published a piece saying that actually, no, Jeffery Epstein donated millions or helped get millions for, particularly, the Media Lab,” Mengiste said.
Joi Ito, the head of the Media Lab, has since resigned. MIT students now are demanding new policies that include democratic oversight of MIT’s finances.
Mengiste said the incident has revealed deep flaws in the system for funding cutting-edge science.
“Somebody said at the protest, ‘Money has memory.’ And, we have to think about where our money comes from, because money is not given to MIT with no strings attached, right?” she said. “Indirectly, or with direct input from the givers, money definitely affects the kind of science that places like MIT do.”
Mengiste said she hopes other campuses are reckoning with the sources of their funding.
“Harvard’s done some starting to investigate some of its funding related to Epstein. And so I hope that campuses around the country – around the world – do some soul-searching on that matter,” she said.
Speakers at the rally also called for a close examination of the university’s relationship to military and defense contractors, the Koch brothers and Crown Price Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.