Following the publication Friday night of a report detailing a years-long effort to conceal ties between the MIT Meida Lab and disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, the lab’s director, Joi Ito, has resigned and the university has vowed to conduct an independent investigation.
“After giving the matter a great deal of thought over the past several days and weeks, I think that it is best that I resign as director of the media lab and as a professor and employee of the Institute, effective immediately,” Ito said Saturday in a letter to the university’s provost, reprinted in the New York Times.
Hours later, Ito also resigned from the board of the New York Times; He had been a board member since 2012.
Ito had been under increasing scrutiny since ties between MIT Media Lab and Epstein became public after Epstein died from an apparent suicide in a New York jail on Aug. 10. Epstein had been a major donor to the lab since 2013, and on Aug. 15 Ito apologized for having facilitated ties with Epstein, but insisted that “in all of my interactions with Epstein, I was never involved in, never heard him talk about, and never saw any evidence of the horrific acts that he was accused of.”
However, Ronan Farrow reported in a New Yorker story Friday night that Ito was aware not only of the accusations of sexual misconduct, but that Epstein had been formally disqualified as a donor by the university due to his 2008 sex-trafficking conviction. According to the report, Ito and several subordinates falsely listed Epstein’s donations as anonymous, discussed doing so in emails and allowed Epstein to visit the lab while keeping his name out of any official calendar.
Farrow also reported that Ito continued to do so even after at least one colleague expressed concerns on multiple occasions.
In a letter to MIT students and faculty Saturday afternoon, MIT President L. Rafael Reif promised “an immediate, thorough and independent investigation” and said the university would be hiring a “prominent law firm” to conduct it.
“Last night, The New Yorker published an article that contains deeply disturbing allegations about the engagement between individuals at the Media Lab and Jeffrey Epstein,” Reif wrote.
“Because the accusations in the story are extremely serious, they demand an immediate, thorough and independent investigation. This morning, I asked MIT’s General Counsel to engage a prominent law firm to design and conduct this process. I expect the firm to conduct this review as swiftly as possible, and to report back to me and to the Executive Committee of the MIT Corporation, MIT’s governing board,” he continued.
“This afternoon, Joi Ito submitted his resignation as Director of the Media Lab and as a professor and employee of the Institute. As I described in my previous letter, the acceptance of the Epstein gifts involved a mistake of judgment. We are actively assessing how best to improve our policies, processes and procedures to fully reflect MIT’s values and prevent such mistakes in the future. Our internal review process continues, and what we learn from it will inform the path ahead.”
Ito did not respond to a request for additional comment.
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