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MIT releases results of fact-finding on engagements with Jeffrey Epstein

Law firm completes independent review of faculty, staff, and administration actions.
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The Executive Committee of the MIT Corporation today released the findings from a thorough review of MIT’s engagements with Jeffrey Epstein. The review, conducted by the law firm Goodwin Procter, sheds light on the Institute’s actions pertaining to 10 Epstein donations, totaling $850,000, that MIT received between 2002 and 2017, as well as multiple visits that Epstein made to campus.

The report concludes that President L. Rafael Reif was not aware that the Institute was accepting donations from a convicted sex offender and accused pedophile, and had no role in approving MIT’s acceptance of the donations.

But the review finds that three MIT vice presidents learned of Epstein’s donations to the MIT Media Lab, and his status as a convicted sex offender, in 2013. In the absence of any MIT policy regarding controversial gifts, Epstein’s subsequent gifts to the Institute were approved under an informal framework developed by the three administrators, R. Gregory Morgan, Jeffrey Newton, and Israel Ruiz.

“Since MIT had no policy or processes for handling controversial donors in place at the time, the decision to accept Epstein’s post-conviction donations cannot be judged to be a policy violation,” the 61-page report says. “But it is clear that the decision was the result of collective and significant errors in judgment that resulted in serious damage to the MIT community.”

Unbeknownst to any members of MIT’s senior leadership, the report says, Epstein visited MIT nine times between 2013 and 2017. The fact-finding reveals that these visits and all post-conviction gifts from Epstein were driven by either former Media Lab director Joi Ito or professor of mechanical engineering Seth Lloyd, and not by the MIT administration or the Office of Resource Development.

The report concludes that Lloyd purposefully failed to inform MIT that Epstein, a convicted sex offender, was the source of two donations to support his research in 2012. Lloyd was also found to have received a personal gift of $60,000 from Epstein in 2005 or 2006, which he acknowledged was deposited into a personal bank account and not reported to MIT.

In keeping with a call for action from the Executive Committee today, President Reif has placed Lloyd, a tenured professor, on paid administrative leave.

Extensive review of facts

Today’s public release follows discussion of the findings at a special meeting this morning of the MIT Corporation, the Institute’s board of trustees.

The Goodwin Procter report draws upon 73 interviews with 59 individuals, as well as a review of more than 610,000 emails and documents provided by current and former MIT employees, among others. It offers a detailed account of MIT’s interactions with Epstein, who died last August while in federal prison.

“The fact-finding has taken four months — longer than what was initially expected,” the Executive Committee said in a statement accompanying today’s release of the Goodwin Procter report. “As detailed in the report, the process expanded as new facts were found. The report being made public today makes for uncomfortable reading, especially for all of us who love MIT and are dedicated to its mission.”

The full report on Epstein’s donations and visits to MIT was released today on a website, http://factfindingjan2020.mit.edu, accompanied by the Executive Committee’s statement and other relevant materials. The statement affirmed the Executive Committee’s “full confidence in [President Reif’s] leadership of MIT.”

President Reif responds

President Reif wrote to the MIT community this afternoon regarding the conclusion of the fact-finding process, saying that the current moment “stands as a sharp reminder of human fallibility and its consequences.”

He encouraged all members of the MIT community to read the full range of materials being released today: “An enduring MIT value is the willingness to face hard facts, and as community voices have made clear, this situation demands openness and transparency,” he wrote.

The names of less senior employees who may — in the course of doing their jobs — have played roles in the Epstein engagements have been excluded from the report, so as to protect their privacy. But, President Reif wrote, “The report describes the actions of individuals and uses the names of the central figures — senior academics, administrative leaders and staff. In return for this transparency, I hope and expect that, in the best MIT tradition, we can respond with decency, fairness and understanding.”

The president noted the contributions of “everyone who has taken action to try to bring MIT back on course” — including members of the community who knew of Epstein’s gifts and tried to raise concerns; those who shared insights and information with Goodwin Procter to assist in its fact-finding; those who attended campus forums last fall; and “members of MIT’s current senior team who had no role in the Epstein funding but who have endured this difficult period with remarkable steadiness, patience and wisdom.”
 
“As all of you demonstrated, there is a great deal that is right with MIT,” President Reif wrote. “We must fix what needs fixing and improve what needs improving. And we must make room for many more voices and perspectives. But if we can face the Institute’s flaws with honesty and build on its great strengths, we can not only make our community stronger, more equitable, more inclusive and more effective, we can offer a model for deliberate self-assessment, growth and change. That is a goal worthy of MIT.”

Drawing upon recommendations from the Executive Committee, President Reif’s letter identifies five requirements for action moving forward: policies and processes to guide decisions on controversial donors; a culture in which whistleblowing is accepted, effective, and safe; guidelines to keep the MIT community safe from visitors who pose a direct threat; support for the Media Lab community as it makes a fresh start; and an Institute-wide community process to address persistent issues in campus climate and culture.

Key findings

Goodwin Procter’s fact-finding revealed that between 2002 and 2017, Epstein made 10 separate gifts to MIT, totaling $850,000 — an increase from the “approximately $800,000” reported to the MIT community last August.

The earliest gift was $100,000 given in 2002 to support the research of the late Professor Marvin Minsky, who died in 2016. The remaining nine donations, all made after Epstein’s 2008 conviction, included $525,000 to the Media Lab and $225,000 to Professor Lloyd.

Lloyd received two $50,000 donations from Epstein in 2012, and $125,000 in 2017, all to support Lloyd’s work. The report indicates that Epstein viewed the 2012 gifts as a trial balloon to test MIT’s willingness to accept donations following his conviction.

“Professor Lloyd knew that donations from Epstein would be controversial and that MIT might reject them,” the report says. “We conclude that, in concert with Epstein, he purposefully decided not to alert the Institute to Epstein’s criminal record, choosing instead to allow mid-level administrators to process the donations without any formal discussion or diligence concerning Epstein.”

Following one of the two $50,000 donations, staff prepared a standard gift-acknowledgment letter to Epstein, and President Reif signed it on Aug. 16, 2012 — which he disclosed to the MIT community last September.

“There is no evidence that President Reif, or anyone else involved in sending the Presidential Acknowledgement letter in 2012, had any knowledge that Epstein had a criminal record or was controversial in any way,” the report states.

Six Media Lab donations followed from 2013 to 2017; the Media Lab rejected an additional $25,000 gift that Epstein offered in February 2019, following widespread media coverage of his activities.

The report finds that the initial 2013 gift to the Media Lab, as well as Epstein’s criminal record involving sex offenses, were brought to the attention of Morgan, then MIT’s vice president and general counsel; Newton, then vice president for resource development; and Ruiz, executive vice president and treasurer.

They created an informal framework by which Epstein’s gifts were allowed within certain guidelines. The three, the report says, “acting in good faith, debated whether to accept Epstein’s post-conviction donations to the Media Lab. They ultimately decided on a compromise solution: accept the donations to support Ito and the Media Lab, while trying to protect the Institute to the extent possible by insisting that such donations remain relatively small and unpublicized, so that they could not be used by Epstein to launder or ‘whitewash’ his reputation or to gain influence at MIT.”

After this framework was established, Morgan, Newton, and Ruiz engaged in discussions of additional Epstein gifts later in 2013 and in 2014, approving subsequent gifts under the same framework. This approach was reaffirmed after Newton’s 2014 retirement from MIT.

“We find that no Senior Team member violated any law, breached any MIT policy, or acted in pursuit of personal gain in connection with Epstein’s donations,” the report states. “Certain Senior Team members, however, made significant mistakes of judgment in deciding to accept Epstein’s post-conviction donations. They failed to adequately consider: (1) whether accepting money from Epstein was consistent with MIT’s core values; (2) the impact that MIT’s acceptance of Epstein’s money would have on the MIT community should those donations become known; and (3) whether it was appropriate to accept donations with a requirement by MIT that they remain anonymous.”

Other key determinations of Goodwin Procter’s fact-finding include:
•    Goodwin Procter did not find evidence to support the claim that Epstein arranged for donations to MIT from other wealthy individuals. In 2014, Epstein claimed that he had arranged an anonymous $2 million gift from Bill Gates and an anonymous $5 million donation from Leon Black, the co-founder of Apollo Global Management, both to the Media Lab. The report states: “We did not find any evidence that the money donated by Gates or Black actually was Epstein’s money — that is, there is no evidence that Gates and Black acted to ‘launder’ Epstein’s money.”
•    While the 2013 framework for accepting Epstein funds required that he refrain from publicizing his support of MIT, Epstein repeatedly ignored this requirement. He also publicly claimed credit, in 2014, for two gifts that he did not make to MIT.
•    Contrary to certain media reports, neither Epstein nor his foundations were ever coded as “disqualified” in MIT’s donor database. Further, designation as “disqualified” does not mean that a person or entity is prohibited from donating to the Institute; rather, the term refers to any donor who is inactive or no longer interested in giving to MIT.
•    There is some evidence that Epstein may have come up as a brief topic of discussion at two 2015 meetings of MIT’s senior team, but the report says: “Numerous members of the Senior Team who were not part of the decision-making group on the acceptance of Epstein donations told us that, while they do not recall whether a discussion of Epstein occurred, they are confident that, if there had been a discussion of donations from a convicted ‘sex-offender’ or ‘pedophile,’ they would have remembered it.”
•    In 2016, unbeknownst to MIT’s senior team, Ito sought unsuccessfully to enlist Robert Millard, the chair of the MIT Corporation, in cultivating Epstein as a potential donor. At one point that year, Epstein emailed Millard to invite him to dinner, but Millard declined the invitation. There is no evidence that he reconnected with Epstein following the declined dinner invitation.

Goodwin Procter was engaged by MIT last September to determine what donations Epstein made to MIT; who in MIT’s senior leadership was aware of or approved the donations; when and why Epstein visited MIT; and whether MIT’s leadership was aware of or approved those visits. Certain topics that have been the subject of media coverage, but which are outside of this scope, are not addressed by the report.

“We investigated all matters relevant to the scope of our engagement,” Goodwin Procter writes in its report. “MIT did not impose any constraints on the investigation and cooperated fully with it, including by providing documents and other information and facilitating access to current and former MIT faculty and administrators.”

Recommendations for the future

In its statement, the Executive Committee recommends to President Reif a series of actions moving forward. From these recommendations, the president’s letter to the community identifies the following five priorities, as well as outlining some actions that have already been taken toward these goals:

•    Clear policies and processes to guide decisions about controversial donors: This fall, two committees were launched — one to define a set of values and principles to guide the assessment of outside engagements, and the other to review and recommend improvements to MIT’s processes on soliciting and accepting gifts.

The first of these, the Ad Hoc Faculty Committee on Guidelines for Outside Engagements, is chaired by Tavneet Suri, an associate professor of applied economics at the MIT Sloan School of Management; its members are listed here. A second committee, the Ad Hoc Committee to Review MIT Gift Processes, is chaired by Peter Fisher, professor and head of the Department of Physics; its members are listed here. Both committees are expected to deliver their recommendations this spring.

“In the interim, we have instituted an additional process, overseen by the provost, the vice president for research and the vice president for finance, to make sure all relevant information is reviewed before any reasonably significant gift is accepted,” President Reif wrote. “I have also asked the vice president for resource development to immediately identify and implement steps to strengthen the integrity, rigor and security of the donor database.”

•    A culture in which whistleblowing is accepted, effective, and safe: Goodwin Procter’s report makes clear that various Media Lab and central administration employees were unsuccessful in their efforts to warn academic and administrative leaders against taking Epstein’s donations. President Reif has instructed Vice President and General Counsel Mark DiVincenzo to lead an effort to strengthen MIT’s existing whistleblower channels and its nonretaliation and confidentiality protections, and to explore new ways in which members of the community might safely and effectively share concerns.

•    Guidelines to keep the MIT community safe from visitors who could pose a direct threat: In response to the finding that Epstein visited MIT nine times between 2013 and 2017, President Reif said in his letter that he has asked Provost Martin Schmidt, Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart, Vice President and General Counsel DiVincenzo, MIT’s faculty officers, and the leadership of the MIT Police to review the findings pertaining to Epstein’s visits, consult with an inclusive group of other campus leaders, and propose guidelines to minimize similar risks in the future.

•    Support for the Media Lab community as it makes a fresh start: Three days after Joi Ito’s Sept. 7 resignation as director of the Media Lab, a group of five faculty and senior staff were named to lead the Media Lab on an interim basis, until a new director is in place. This committee has been tasked with charting a future of greater inclusion and transparency for the Media Lab. With leadership from this committee, faculty and staff are assessing the future internal governance of the Media Lab as well as its values and culture, and will soon launch a search for a new director.

•    An Institute-wide community process to address persistent issues in our campus climate and culture: Over the past four months, in community forums and elsewhere, many individuals have described the damaging impacts of disrespect, harassment, marginalization, and abuses of power at MIT. Building on these and the recommendations of past community studies, various MIT leaders are designing a process to allow the MIT community to articulate shared goals for our campus climate and culture, and decide how best to achieve them. President Reif wrote that he expects to share initial plans this coming semester.

As part of their public statements, President Reif, Lloyd, and Ito have all apologized to the survivors of Epstein’s abuse, and have pledged to donate amounts matching their Epstein funding to charities that benefit the survivors of sexual abuse. MIT’s 29-member Committee on Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response, which has broad representation from MIT students, faculty, and staff — including from the Violence Prevention and Response office — will advise President Reif on MIT’s $850,000 donation.

“The fact-finding has clarified how and why Epstein was able to be engaged with MIT,” the Executive Committee wrote in its statement. “Now, it is the collective responsibility of the Corporation, the senior leaders, the faculty, the staff, the students and the alumni to use the findings to make meaningful changes to minimize the possibility of such a situation happening again. It is the sincere hope of the Executive Committee that the findings of fact and the recommendations that flow from them will help MIT move forward constructively from this difficult and painful episode.”

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