But…but…that’s the whole goddamn problem!

MIT is struggling with the disclosure that one of their star professors, Joi Ito, accepted a heck of a lot of money from the pedophile Jeffrey Epstein. So, at one of their meetings, Nicholasa Negroponte decided to “help”.

Throughout, the meeting had proceeded calmly. But as one of the organizers began to wrap things up, Negroponte stood up, unprompted, and began to speak. He discussed his privilege as a “rich white man” and how he had used that privilege to break into the social circles of billionaires. It was these connections, he said, that had allowed the Media Lab to be the only place at MIT that could afford to charge no tuition, pay people full salaries, and allow researchers to keep their intellectual property.

Negroponte said that he prided himself on knowing over 80% of the billionaires in the US on a first-name basis, and that through these circles he had come to spend time with Epstein. Over the years, he had two dinners and one ride in Epstein’s private jet alone, where they spoke passionately about science. (He didn’t say whether these occurred before or after Epstein’s 2008 conviction.) It was these interactions, he said, that warmed him to Epstein and made him confidently and enthusiastically recommend that Ito take the money.

It was at this point that Negroponte said he would still have given Ito the same advice today. Different people in attendance had conflicting interpretations of his statement. Some understood him to mean he would act the same way even knowing what he knows now about Epstein’s alleged sex trafficking. But Negroponte told the Boston Globe that in retrospect, “Yes, we are embarrassed and regret taking his money.”

Oh my god. Stop shooting yourself in the foot.

Negroponte has all these privileges. MIT is a good university with an excess of wealth and privilege. Isn’t it nice that he hangs out with capitalist looters? Shouldn’t all our science and education be funded by making friends with rich criminals? Yeah, let’s all cozy up to perverts and bankers and stock market speculators and hope they shower us with gold. Money is magic! It doesn’t matter where it comes from!

Some in the audience were shocked and horrified, the ones with some awareness and social consciousness. Negroponte just got up and admitted that all the great things that benefited all the lucky people at MIT were the product of unclean hands, and that he’d happily take any money from anyone, no matter how they acquired it.

I guess ethics isn’t one of the scholarly disciplines MIT is known for.


  1. chris61 says

    Epstein was a criminal because he was a pedophile, not because he was rich. You may disapprove of capitalism but it’s not illegal. I expect as a professor you have a retirement plan based on investments and I very much doubt you plan to toss that money away because it came from banks and the stock market.

  2. says

    It ought to be illegal to be a billionaire.

    I make a middle class income, will be poor when I retire (if I am able to), and what earnings I will make will be diminished because rich assholes siphon off much of that investment income to profit themselves.

  3. whywhywhy says

    #1 Chris61
    How exactly did Epstein acquire his wealth? Not clear that it was legal (let alone ethical) ‘capitalism’ that provided the bulk of his assets. Actually, this raises a good point, what do you consider to be the definition of capitalism? Does this vision of capitalism exist on the earth and if so where?

  4. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    I had similar thoughts working as an undergrad lab tech for our Nobel Laureate Prof. Ting. He made MIT pay extra to rent him an automatic transmission Mercedes in Germany, where manuals are conventional. He liked to brag about schmoozing with billionaires to get the funding for his high speed particle physics experiments where other physicists on his team did all the calculations and stuff, he was the team leader for getting the money they needed to build high end measurement gizmos. He worked the grads on the team double shifts with threats of expulsion for lagging. When one of our undergrads asked for a small raise, being overseas for this and the odd shifts we were being forced to work, he offered a return home on Lufthansa at no charge no penalty. The undergrad accepted it and was sent home on standby on the cheapest airline of the time. We who stayed were given a doubling of our per diem to avoid tax involvement. Ting did not leave a good impression. I relished the German Physicist partner of Ting who designed all the gizmos we were building and installing in Germany. My memory has lost his name unfortunately, he was the star of the team overshadowed by Ting, who still tentatively holds the Nobel as a dispute between him and another world class physicist [GoogleFu it].
    I still relish my MIT experience, making me realize everything has flaws, including the premiere Technical University.

  5. garnetstar says

    “I guess ethics isn’t one of the scholarly disciplines MIT is known for.” You are quite correct.

    In fact, Negroponte quite clearly delineated MIT’s administration’s philosophy and policy on the issue of money, and how they reward professors who follow it.

    The administration isn’t particularly secretive about it, either, though one supposes that they wish Negroponte could have kept his mouth shut in the Epstein instance. Are they sorry that they encouraged professors to take money from a child predator? Not a bit, they’re proud of how much they managed to suck up. They just wish that people would not publically boast about it.

    Note to say: that’s been my experience of them.

  6. Bruce says

    To me, campaign finance is analogous to this. It is clarifying to rephrase it as: who should our leaders accept bribes from? The choices are: rich people, or lots of people (leading in the limit to “the public”).
    Politicians who take gifts from rich people will always be tempted to want more, and to censor their own thoughts so as not to risk the future approval of the rich. That’s why our Congress was shown to do usually what the rich want, and only to do what the general population wants at a level of random chance. In other words, the USA is an oligarchy, not a democracy-based government.
    The only way around this is for leaders and politicians only to be able to take campaign funding from the public at large, such that special requests are irrelevant.
    As with those who benefitted from Epstein, once one starts relying on funds from the rich, one becomes a servant of the rich who listens more to the rich and protects the interests of the rich. Without anonymizing insulation, those who benefit become distorted by this undue influence. We need to choose another way.
    Until we have all campaigns funded only by public funding, I think it is better to support candidates who avoid funds from the rich.

  7. monad says

    @7 booberry: That sounds good if you presume the use isn’t bent by the source. That’s rarely if ever true. Rich people don’t give out money unless they get something from the deal, and it’s important to ask what that is and if it’s right to give them.

  8. booberry says

    @8 Monad,

    “That sounds good if you presume the use isn’t bent by the source.”

    Yes, that is what my comment would presume.

  9. Ridana says

    I lean toward the booberry camp. I don’t care where the money comes from as long as the source is made public and we can see exactly what is done with it, the latter being the most important. I think that D.L. Moody quote’s been floating around on this issue (~ I’ll take the devil’s money, he’s used it long enough) and evangelical source aside, it’s a sentiment I agree with. If they don’t use it to fund good stuff, they’ll certainly use it to fund more evil stuff instead. We know the giver is evil, but the ethics lie more in what the recipient does with the gift, since the giver already is known to have no ethics, will decide for themselves if the amount of rehab to their rep and the tax deductions are worth it if they don’t get the leverage they’re expecting to go with the donation. Until we get fairer laws in place, I don’t see any other way to pry the gold from their hands.
    4) @ slithey tove: I don’t think it’s unreasonable to pay extra for an automatic drive if you don’t know how to drive a stick (which an ungodly number of USians no longer do). I assume that was your beef, rather than renting a Mercedes, since that’s what you emphasized. :)

  10. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Ridana: “Until we get fairer laws in place, I don’t see any other way to pry the gold from their hands.”

    So, you do realize that the whole basis for majority rule is the admission that if the majority are against you, they could probably kick your ass and do what they wanted anyway. What we need is for people to wake up and see that they are never going to be billionaires and think that maybe they could use that health care or education to grow the economy a bit more than the hedge fund billionaire needs that third yacht.

    The rationale for businesses to exist is that they benefit the society–not the other way around. We’ve lost sight of that in this country.

  11. leerudolph says

    What gets me is that (if the figures reported in the Boston Globe are correct, and I did the arithmetic right) Epstein gave the Media Lab forty thousand dollars a year for twenty years. Nick, we already knew what you were [1], but I thought you’d at least do a better job of haggling about the price! [2]

    [1] Among other things, a ripper-off of other (MIT!) peoples’ ideas. He got all kinds of praise for the (never very effective) “One Laptop Per Child” initiative. Which had been proposed, and set up by, Seymour Papert decades earlier, back when Negroponte was still diddling around with his “Architecture Machine” project. Papert’s proposal might very well have turned out to be just as ineffective, and its money was definitely going to come from Equally Bad Sources, to with, Saudi oil—funding for the Dynabooks from PARC (eight of them existed in 1973!!!) loaded with LOGO from the (MIT) AI Lab and other such stuff, one to be given to each child in sub-Saharan Africa. Papert had funding all set up (or so he claimed) from Ahmed Zaki Yamani, the Saudi oil minister, just before Labor Day 1974 (I was a hanger-on at the Pajaros Dune meeting-of-the-somewhat-crazed-minds of Alan Kaye with his Palo Alto CA people, and Papert’s with his Cambridge MA people). And then there was the October oil crisis…

    [2] No disrespect to actual, literal sex workers intended.

  12. DanDare says

    The thieves gain power. They shape the laws to make their theft legal. Legal is rarely the same as ethical. Taking the thief’s money is to acquiesce to their dominion.

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