‘Irish Times’ Excerpts Confidential Report on Collapse of MIT’s Ireland Media Lab

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(AP) A report into the imminent collapse of Media Lab Europe, a research center jointly owned by the Irish government and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, describes an environment of managerial and financial chaos. Excerpts from the confidential report were published in The Irish Times on Thursday.

Media Lab Europe, a pet project of Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, closed this month after the government and MIT couldn’t agree on who should foot the mounting bill for its survival.

Extracts from the May 2004 report, published Thursday by the Times under terms of Ireland’s Freedom of Information Act, detailed the cash crisis facing the project, which was supposed to be a not-for-profit center promoting technological innovation.

The report, produced by Media Lab’s newly arrived management team, described the working environment of Media Lab as one of “hell,” “chaos,” and “inmates running the asylum.” It appealed to the government to provide 9 million euros ($12 million) in funding, which the government refused to do.

Opened in 2000 in central Dublin with initial government funding of 35 million euros ($45 million), Media Lab Europe was supposed to become self-financing — just like MIT’s own 20-year-old, industry-funded Media Lab in Cambridge, Mass.

But corporate sponsorship never came close to funding the Dublin center’s costs. The Irish Times also revealed Thursday that the government offered MIT terms of a possible bailout three days before Media Lab’s closure announcement Jan. 14.

The government proposed to pay 3 million euros ($4 million) annually to keep the center running — but only if MIT introduced degree programs as part of the research, agreed to greater government management and waived payments it was receiving from the government as part of the original 2000 deal.

The facility — based in a former warehouse of the Guinness brewery in a traditionally rough quarter of Dublin — closed Feb. 1. More than 50 people, mostly young European researchers, lost their jobs.

It was the second unsuccessful attempt by MIT to set up a Media Lab offshoot abroad. In 2003, the university pulled out of a collaboration in India after less than two years, blaming a clash in research styles.

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