BY MIT STUDENTS AGAINST WAR
January 11, 2020
Yesterday, MIT released a report from the law firm Goodwin Procter detailing the university’s damning ties to Jeffrey Epstein, the multi-millionaire sex trafficker who donated hundreds of thousands of dollars with the full knowledge of the central administration. The Executive Committee released this report on a Friday afternoon during an inter-semester period, obviously anxious to clear the names of anybody still in charge and move on.
On first reading, the actual contents of the report tell a different story from the summaries that have been released. President Rafael Reif, senior MIT administrators, the chairman of the MIT Corporation, Nicholas Negroponte, and countless professors are implicated as having met with Epstein or been aware of his involvement with the institute. The Executive Committee’s assertion that President Reif was “not involved in the decision to accept [Epstein’s] funds” is plainly untrue. The report notes that Reif wrote “Epstein – Joi Ito” on his copy of an Executive Committee agenda after a meeting in 2015, although apparently he “could not recall why.” (p.38)
The actions of this administration have been too little, too late. President Reif, Provost Marty Schmidt, and Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz told us throughout the fall that they didn’t have the ability to take action against Seth Lloyd. By putting him on leave now, President Reif has proven that this was a lie, one that inflicted serious damage to the community. The fact that Lloyd is still being paid by MIT adds insult to injury.
This isn’t to say that our efforts have been in vain. Without the pressure exerted through community organizing and attention from the public, it is unlikely that MIT would have taken any action regarding Joi Ito, Seth Lloyd, or Richard Stallman, or that they would have released this report in full. An empowered student and staff community has the ability to create real cultures of accountability. This accountability was not present when MIT Media Lab staff and students raised concerns that were batted down by their superiors.
MIT’s history makes it clear that the relationship with Jeffrey Epstein was not an accident, but rather part of a broader pattern of placing profits above our supposed mission of serving the world. This can be seen in the university’s extensive relationships with actors like the US military, oil companies, Steven A. Schwarzman, Saudi Arabia and the Koch brothers. Unsurprisingly, the report makes virtually no mention of the material harm that MIT inflicted upon the world and Epstein’s countless victims by enabling him and lending him credibility; rather it focuses solely on the effects to MIT’s community and reputation.
Now is not the time for an apology tour, but for transformative structural change to empower students and workers. MIT needs democratic community control of fundraising (as outlined in the Democratize MIT proposal) and of the institution as a whole. In the coming days and weeks, MIT Students Against War will be releasing our key findings from the report as well as announcing future actions, to ensure that the voices of our community and the world are heard loud and clear.
Contact: Twitter @MIT_SAW or by email at email@example.com.