Director Of MIT's Media Lab Steps Down Over Ties To Disgraced Financier

Sep 9, 2019
Originally published on September 9, 2019 10:37 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Jeffrey Epstein may be dead, but his legacy continues to haunt one of the country's most elite universities. Over the weekend, the director of MIT's Media Lab, Joi Ito, resigned - this after a whistleblower revealed to The New Yorker magazine the depth of MIT's financial relationship with Epstein and the lengths that some at MIT went to to hide it. That whistleblower, Signe Swenson, spoke with NPR this weekend. She had applied for a job at the University's Media Lab. And she says Epstein came up in her conversations with the director of development, Peter Cohen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SIGNE SWENSON: It was described to me that Joi has a relationship with Jeffrey Epstein and that they were cultivating him as a donor to the lab. I told Peter Cohen that he was a convicted pedophile, that this was well-known.

MARTIN: Even before all that came out, MIT graduate student Arwa Mboya had already been demanding that Ito resign. She wrote an op-ed in the campus newspaper last month. Arwa joins us now from Cambridge, Mass. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

ARWA MBOYA: Hi. Good morning.

MARTIN: I understand you met with Joi Ito in his office on Friday. This was just hours before the New Yorker story came out. What did he tell you then?

MBOYA: We had a good conversation. He told me he took - completely agrees with everything that I've said. He thanked me for my criticism. And he said he wanted to work with me to hold him accountable. He said the only place we disagree is that he should resign.

MARTIN: And his argument as to why he shouldn't resign? What did he say?

MBOYA: Restorative justice. He said he wanted to fix the mess that he had made. And he felt that if he left that these messes wouldn't be - they would just be swept under the rug.

MARTIN: So what was your reaction when you found out that that he did indeed step down?

MBOYA: I was shocked, honestly. I really respect Ronan Farrow and Signe for coming forward. But to me, all that information wasn't that new. We knew that before. So I didn't think that it would make him step down at all.

MARTIN: So you don't have any indication as to what changed his mind?

MBOYA: I think the blowover with the media once Ronan wrote that article is what made him change his mind.

MARTIN: I want to play another clip from the interview that our colleague Lulu Garcia-Navarro did with Signe Swenson over the weekend. Again, Swenson Winston is the whistleblower in this case. And she said this about her struggle to accept MIT's financial ties with Epstein.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SWENSON: I felt like I was complicit, that, ultimately, I was powerless to actually change anything. But I'm not proud of having protected a pedophile from scrutiny.

MARTIN: So, Arwa, do you think that MIT essentially protected a sex offender by not disclosing where these donations were coming from?

MBOYA: Yes, absolutely.

MARTIN: We don't know exactly who else at MIT knew what. You're still a student there. I mean, from that perspective, what else do you think needs to happen?

MBOYA: You know, I'm optimistic, actually. I think we as a community need to reassess our values. We need to think about, what do we stand for when we say that we're a future factory? And it has to reflect not just technology but society and the future of women.

MARTIN: And do you think the student population there has been heard?

MBOYA: Not yet. I think we still deserve a town hall that could take up to six hours, if need be. But everyone has to be able to speak their piece.

MARTIN: Arwa Mboya is a master's student at MIT's Media Lab. Thank you so much. We appreciate it.

MBOYA: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF KIASMOS' "DRAWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.