The director of a prestigious research lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) resigned on Saturday, and the school’s president ordered an independent investigation amid an uproar over the lab’s ties to disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.
Joi Ito, director of MIT’s Media Lab, resigned from both the lab and from his position as a professor at the school, university president L. Rafael Reif said.
The resignation was first reported by the New York Times.
Ito’s resignation comes after The New Yorker reported late on Friday that Media Lab had a more extensive fundraising relationship with Epstein than it previously acknowledged and tried to conceal the extent of the relationship.
Epstein killed himself in jail on Aug. 10 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.
US federal prosecutors in New York had charged the 66-year-old with sex trafficking and conspiracy, alleging he sexually abused girls over several years in the early 2000s.
In a letter to the MIT community on Saturday, Reif called the allegations in The New Yorker “deeply disturbing.”
“Because the accusations in the story are extremely serious, they demand an immediate, thorough and independent investigation,” Reif wrote. “This morning, I asked MIT’s general counsel to engage a prominent law firm to design and conduct this process.”
Ito has also resigned from the boards of The New York Times Co, the MacArthur Foundation, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, each announced.
Reif said last month that the university took about US$800,000 from Epstein over 20 years.
That announcement followed the resignation of two prominent researchers from Media Lab over revelations the lab and Ito took money from Epstein after he served time a decade ago for sex offenses involving underage girls.
The New Yorker reports Epstein arranged at least US$7.5 million in donations, including US$2 million from Microsoft founder Bill Gates and US$5.5 million from investor Leon Black.
Although MIT listed Epstein as “disqualified’ in its donor database, the Media Lab did not stop taking gifts from him and labeled his donations as anonymous, The New Yorker reported.
Last week, Ito said Epstein gave him US$525,000 for the Media Lab and another US$1.2 million for his own investment funds.
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