Thoughts on Larry Lessig’s thoughts on the MIT Media Lab / Epstein mess

Mary Lou Jepsen

What Larry Lessig has just penned makes a case for large sums of anonymous monies to institutes because it doesn’t help the reputation of the donor.

Interesting take and worth reading. Everything by Larry Lessig is worth reading.

However, I come to a different conclusion and think transparency is key here, now and in the future. I also take issue with this:

“There will be no more apologies. There will be no more endless effort to reach out and explain mistakes. There will be no clear confessions of error. There will only be the strategy that a senior faculty member at Harvard advised should have been Joi’s strategy here — keep your head down, say nothing, and wait for the storm to pass.”

I’d like to point out the problem is that the “endless” apologies were lies in that they omitted truth.

  1. The president of MIT said MIT took $800k total from Epstein over the years. I believed he had checked his numbers thoroughly. It seems he had, but there were much larger sums of hidden monies.
  2. Joi said it was $525k in total from Epstein as recently as a 5 days ago. This at the all-hands apology meeting at the MIT Media Lab
  3. The Ronan Farrow piece exposed it was more than $7M. This is seat-at-the-table money. It enhanced Epstein’s reputation with the powerful at MIT (it wasn’t truly anonymous). ** It made it so they couldn’t hear the complaints of the junior women — and let’s face it the vast majority of them are junior women — because they are blocked from getting into rooms like this precisely for this reason. A perfect circle.

On point 3: Joi — to be clear — did say that there was money directly from Epstein and also money advised by him. His Clinton-esque use of language parsing could be construed as technically accurate but still misleading. This is because a variable layer was added — called Voldemort — thus an abstraction of the money that provided anonymity (to all but the powerful who became indebted to Epstein**) was not part of the apology — breathing exercises were.

The main point: we need to rethink funding and gifts to institutes as this awful episode clearly instructs. Transparency must be part of it.

note: ** denotes refinement to this piece after it was initially published based on comments by readers

Mary Lou Jepsen

Written by

CEO and Founder of Openwater. Former exec at Google and Facebook, Co-founder & CTO of One Laptop per Child. MIT Professor. Deeply technical w/ 200+ patents

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