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MIT president says the culture that allowed the school’s mistakes around Jeffrey Epstein has prevailed ‘too long’

Stephan Savoia/AP

MIT President L. Rafael Reif has vowed to “repair a system and a culture that failed the people” of the university, after reports revealed the school’s involvement with Jeffrey Epstein.

Reif said Wednesday the culture that allowed the school to make those mistakes has prevailed at MIT for far too long.

“I am humbled that it took this cascade of misjudgments for me to truly see this persistent dynamic and appreciate its full impact,” he said during an MIT faculty meeting. “We need to stop looking away from bad behavior and start taking the time to see what it costs us a community. This moment of crisis much be the moment of reckoning — and a turn towards real accountability.”

Epstein was associated with at least $7 million in donations from wealthy donors to the MIT Media Lab, communications obtained by CNN show.

Epstein was integral to incoming, multimillion-dollar donations from major donors, and the lab made efforts to make sure Epstein’s name was not associated with donations he made or helped solicit, internal communications and documents obtained by CNN show.

“The questions raised in the last month are profound, especially the cultural ones,” Reif said Wednesday. “Some have even asked if MIT has lost its way — if the Institute we all love has changed fundamentally and irretrievably. For me, the answer is an emphatic no. MIT is still MIT. It is still the remarkable community that drew us all here in the first place.”

“But this disturbing period has shed a harsh new light on some elements of our culture that are serving us very poorly,” he added.

Epstein, 66, died in jail August 10 while he was waiting to be tried on federal charges of running a sex trafficking ring of underage girls, some as young as 14 years old. His death was ruled a suicide.

Reif had signed a thank-you letter

Reif has previously said that he signed a thank-you letter to Epstein in 2012 for a donation to one of the university’s professors, and that senior administration members knew about gifts from Epstein’s foundations to MIT’s Media Lab between 2013 and 2017.

On Wednesday, the school president said he sends several hundred thank-you letters a year for contributions to MIT and said he did not recognize the name when he signed the letter.

“Since I played a role in this problem, I feel a deep responsibility to help repair a system and a culture that failed the people of MIT,” Reif said.

“We need to identify and root out the cultural factors that contributed to these troubling errors and outcomes, so we can prevent damage like this in the future. We need to examine honestly what is wrong and work together to correct it,” he added.

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