Dezeen Magazine

MIT named world's top university for architecture for third year running

MIT Media Lab faces investigation following revelations of ties to Jeffrey Epstein

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is to investigate Joichi Ito, the director of the school's Media Lab, after it was revealed he accepted donations from American businessman and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

The New York Times reported news of the "fact-finding" mission yesterday, after obtaining an email sent by the university's president L Rafael Reif to the MIT community.

Reif declared that the MIT's Media Lab, the school's research laboratory, had "received roughly $800,000 in donations from Epstein funds over a 20-year period".

Funds were accepted by Ito and the school's physicist Seth Lloyd, who had both met Epstein in person.

According to the New York Times Reif admitted that the school had made a "mistake in judgment", adding "with hindsight, we recognise with shame and distress that we allowed MIT to contribute to the elevation of his reputation, which in turn served to distract from his horrifying acts".

School accepts funds from Esptein after his sex-trafficking convictions

The news of the school's deeper investigation comes a week after Ito issued a public apology regarding his ties to Epstein, which he continued after the American financier pleaded guilty to committing sex crimes in 2008.

"I met Epstein in 2013 at a conference through a trusted business friend and, in my fundraising efforts for MIT Media Lab, I invited him to the Lab and visited several of his residences," said Ito.

"I want you to know 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," he continued.

"That said, I take full responsibility for my error in judgment."

Lloyd also released an article on Medium in which he apologised for continuing his relationship with Epstein.

Revelations cause conflict in MIT Media Lab

The revelations have lead to conflict in the school, with associate professor Ethan Zuckerman and the visiting scholar J Nathan Matias, both vowing to leave the institute. Students have also called for Ito to leave his position.

The multimillionaire businessman's ties to the school came to light after he was found dead on 10 August in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he was serving a sentence for sex trafficking underage girls.

Founded in 1985, the school focuses on topics such as technology, media, science, art and design, and is highly regarded internationally. Its groups include designer and researcher Neri Oxman's Mediated Matter, which has undertaken a series 3D-printing research projects such as death masks"wearable skins" designed to facilitate synthetic biological processes, and investigations into how to use silkworms to print architectural structures.

A wearable gadget that transcribes conversations that wearers have in their head and tattoo inks that could act as health trackers are among the school's other recent works.

News forms part of "toxic philanthropy" backlash

This year has seen a number of respected cultural institutions come under scrutiny due their unsavoury business links. Their reliance on funding from those deemed to be unethical has been dubbed "toxic philanthropy".

New York's Whitney Museum vice chairman Warren Kanders resigned this month following months of protests against his ties to tear gas used against migrants at the US-Mexico border.

Earlier this month, Yana Peel resigned as CEO of London's Serpentine Gallery.

Updated February 2020

Following a legal complaint, the Guardian removed its article of 14 June 2019 and apologised to Mrs Peel. We are happy to clarify that Yana Peel is not, and was not, personally involved in the operation or decisions of the regulated Novalpina Capital investment fund, which is managed by her husband Stephen Peel, and others. Mrs Peel was not involved in any decision-making relating to the fund’s acquisition of NSO. Mrs Peel only has a small, indirect and passive interest in the fund. She does not own, whether directly or indirectly, any Novalpina Capital entity.