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Richard Stallman resigns from MIT over Epstein comments

Richard Stallman resigns from MIT over Epstein comments


The free software campaigner blamed ‘a series of misunderstandings and mischaracterizations’

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Richard Stallman speaks at the Commons Fest 2015.
Stallman is a regular speaker at events, such as Commons Fest in 2015 (pictured).
Photo by Michael Debets/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Famed computer scientist Richard Stallman has resigned from his position at MIT over recent comments he made concerning Jeffrey Epstein’s victims. He has also resigned as president of the Free Software Foundation, an organization Stallman founded in 1985, as well as from its board of directors. Stallman is perhaps best known for having initiated the development of the GNU operating system in 1983, as well as for his work campaigning for the use of free software.

Last week it emerged that Stallman had cast doubt upon the reports that AI pioneer Marvin Minsky had sexually assaulted one of Epstein’s victims. In an email chain sent to the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) mailing list that was published by Motherboard, Stallman said that “the most plausible scenario” was that Epstein’s victim “presented herself to [Marvin Minsky] as entirely willing.”

Stallman cast doubt over the use of the term “sexual assault”

Stallman also described the distinction between a 17 or 18 year old victim as a “minor” detail, and suggested that it was an “injustice” to refer to it as a “sexual assault.” The emails first came to light after MIT alum Selam Jie Gano posted about them on Medium, and she said they would have been seen by undergraduates who are themselves 17 or 18.

“I am resigning effective immediately from my position in CSAIL at MIT,” Stallman wrote in a blog post, “I am doing this due to pressure on MIT and me over a series of misunderstandings and mischaracterizations.” Stallman has been affiliated with MIT since 1971, when he first became a programmer at the university’s Artificial Intelligence Lab.

“On September 16, 2019, Richard M. Stallman, founder and president of the Free Software Foundation, resigned as president and from its board of directors,” the Free Software Foundation wrote in a separate statement on its website.

Stallman’s resignation comes as MIT grapples with its ties to Epstein, who donated as much as $800,000 to university related projects over the years. MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito resigned from the organization earlier this month after it emerged that he had gone to significant lengths to conceal Epstein’s donations, often marking them as anonymous in internal records. A group of prominent academics had previously signed a letter in support of Ito.