Computer scientist and open software advocate Richard Stallman said he has resigned from his position as a visiting scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) after describing a victim of sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein as “entirely willing” in emails sent to a department list. Stallman has also stepped down from his roles as president and board director at the Free Software Foundation, the nonprofit he founded in 1985.
Last week, the Daily Beast reported that Stallman had also called for the legalization of child pornography and abolishment of age of consent laws on his personal blog in multiple posts published over the course of 15 years.
In his MIT CSAIL resignation, also posted to his personal blog, Stallman wrote: “To the MIT Community, I am resigning effective immediately from my position in CSAIL at MIT. I am doing this due to pressure on MIT and me over a series of misunderstandings.”
MIT has been under scrutiny for its ties to Epstein, whom a New Yorker investigation found had secured $7.5 million in donations for the MIT Media Lab, far more than what was previously disclosed. As a result, its director, Joi Ito, resigned last week and MIT ordered an investigation into the Media Lab’s ties to Epstein, who was found dead in his jail cell last month while awaiting federal trial on sex trafficking charges.
As part of its preliminary findings, MIT president Rafael Reif admitted that the law firm conducting the investigation had uncovered a letter he wrote to thank Epstein for a donation in 2012, four years after Epstein had already pleaded guilty to procuring for prostitution a girl under 18. “I apparently signed this letter on August 16, 2012, about six weeks into my presidency,” Reif wrote. “Although I do not recall it, it does bear my signature.”
Stallman’s emails were first made public last week by mechanical engineer and MIT alum Selam Jie Gano (the entire thread was later published by Vice). In an email sent to a MIT CSAIL mailing list earlier this month, Stallman wrote that Virginia Giuffre, one of Epstein’s sex trafficking victims, who testified that she had been ordered to have sex with late MIT professor Marvin Minsky during a trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands when she was 17, had likely “presented herself to him as entirely willing.” He also wrote that “I’ve concluded from various examples of accusation inflation that it is absolutely wrong to use the term ‘sexual assault’ in an accusation.”
Gano also published an email that Stallman sent to another CSAIL list that included undergraduate students. In it, he said “I think it is morally absurd to define ‘rape’ in a way that depends on minor details such as which country it was in or whether the victim was 18 years old or 17.”
In response to a request for comment, an MIT CSAIL spokesperson forwarded TechCrunch a copy of the email CSAIL director Daniela Rus sent to the department informing them of Stallman’s resignation:
Dear CSAIL colleagues,
I am writing to let you know that today Richard Stallman submitted his resignation from the lab, effective immediately. In the weeks ahead, we will work with him to come up with a transition plan.
We thank him for his technical contributions to the lab, to the free-software movement, and to the wider computer-science community over the decades.
Recent events have also prompted me and other senior leadership at the lab to focus on having a discussion on how we can improve the ways we respectfully work with one another in this community. This includes ongoing conversations about the future of the CSAIL-related listserv.
My team will continue to keep the community informed of our progress.