MIT scandal highlights thorny ethics of university donations

  • MIT is dealing with new allegations about its financial ties to Jeffrey Epstein and other universities that accepted donations from the financier have no plans to return the money they received.
  • Harvard University says it already spent $6.5 million that Epstein donated in 2003. The University of Arizona says it isn’t returning $50,000 it received in 2017. The University of British Columbia is not giving back $25,000 it got from an Epstein charity in 2011.
  • Ohio State University has not confirmed their decision on funding from Epstein, including $2.5 million donated in 2007. The school announced a review of the gifts in July but declined to provide an update
  • This draws attention to the challenges universities face as they screen potential donors and decide whether to keep money that’s tainted by its benefactor’s misdeeds.
  • Epstein’s ties to academia are being reviewed again amid allegations that a prestigious research lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had a more extensive fundraising relationship with Epstein than it previously acknowledged and claims they tried to conceal the extent of the relationship.
  • The allegations spurred MIT’s president to bring in an outside law firm to investigate. In a letter to campus Saturday, President Rafael Reif called the accusations “deeply disturbing” and “extremely serious.”
  • Reif previously announced that MIT had received about $800,000 from Epstein over two decades and would donate the same amount to a charity that benefits victims of sexual abuse.
  • At MIT, it seems there was a breakdown in the system for evaluating donors and the Media Lab continued to accept money from Epstein even after the university labeled him as a “disqualified” donor.
  • At Brown University, a fundraising director was placed on administrative leave following a report that accused him of helping cover up Epstein’s connections to the MIT Media Lab.
  • Reif’s message said the acceptance of Epstein’s gifts “involved a mistake of judgment.” He added that the school is assessing how to improve policies and prevent similar mistakes in the future.