Holy crap, MIT!

The Epstein fallout continues. MIT is thoroughly scolded by the Boston Globe editorial staff.

Heads have rolled; new rules have been promised. But what led MIT to accept the donations of sex criminal Jeffrey Epstein is about much more than bad apples or bad fundraising criteria: It’s a reflection of a culture that has strayed from basic values and that’s long overdue for a reckoning.

The report that MIT released Friday showed the Institute took $750,000 in donations from Epstein after he was convicted as a sex offender in Florida in 2008 (and $100,000 before that) as well as hosted the late financier on campus nine times between 2013 and 2017. The investigation of the donations, led by the law firm Goodwin Proctor at the behest of the MIT corporation, showed that in addition to two faculty members who solicited the post-conviction gifts — former MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito and mechanical engineering professor Seth Lloyd — three university vice-presidents, R. Gregory Morgan, Jeffrey Newton, and Israel Ruiz, were aware of Epstein’s donations, his reputation, and his 2008 conviction for soliciting a child for prostitution, and yet approved taking his money and keeping it a secret anyway.

We’ve already seen Joi Ito go down in flames — he knew exactly what he was doing, and he lied to cover up the money coming into his lab. I’d heard of Seth Lloyd, but had no idea until know what a corrupt SOB he was. Lloyd was an associate of Brockman’s Edge group, which is beginning to look like a red flag.

Mano has covered the Lloyd story well, and it’s written up in Nature.

It’s hard to comprehend how consciously devious he was.

He received $225,000 in research grants, and shockingly, a $60,000 personal gift from Epstein. This is unheard of, as far as I know. Grant awards do not come with big ol’ piles of money to the awardee; not once in my career have I profited from a grant in any way. That money is supposed to go through the institution, and be managed and regulated by that institution.

Then he kept the money secret.

“Professor Lloyd knew that donations from Epstein would be controversial and that MIT might reject them,” the report concluded. “We conclude that, in concert with Epstein, he purposefully decided not to alert the Institute to Epstein’s criminal record, choosing instead to allow mid-level administrators to process the donations without any formal discussion or diligence concerning Epstein.”

Wow. Unimaginable. The last big grant I received was administered by our grants office, I didn’t see a penny of it, and every purchase request was overseen by an administrator who would double-check whether it was allowed under the terms of the grant. Heck, even the little in-house grants I’ve received are policed strictly by administrators, which is right and proper. It is not the PI’s money!

Lloyd even tried to justify his actions to his classes!

In her op-ed, Graham said that Lloyd opened his initial class, by asking, “How many of you have heard of Jeffrey Epstein?” and then diving into an explanation of why he decided to visit Epstein in prison and accept funds from him after he had been convicted of having sex with minors. He told students he had consulted important women in his life, his mother and wife, before taking the funds. “There was no information that couldn’t have been sent in an optional email to the class. This was a power play, pure and simple,” Graham wrote of Lloyd’s lecture.

In other words, Lloyd knew that accepting the money was wrong, that the association with Epstein was unconscionable, so he had to make a guilty rationalization to his students. This is another alien experience to me — I’ve never felt the need to explain to a class that “I did X, and I know it looks really, really bad, and it got me entangled with criminals, but…”.

That Boston Globe editorial may not have gone far enough. It’s true that MIT has “a culture that has strayed from basic values”, but let’s not let the faculty off the hook. They hired a bunch of cowboys, turned ’em loose with little oversight, and are now shocked to learn that they were a bunch of sleazy rustlers.

I wonder if MIT will now start enforcing the rules, and how many of their big names with big egos will complain?

The least the president of MIT can do right now is resign. Lloyd should be fired.


  1. brianl says

    “Strayed from basic values”? Ha! This is the fullest expression of MIT’s values. Get the money.

  2. chrislawson says

    I wouldn’t agree take Epstein’s money, but I can see how a university could rationalise it as helping important research (personally, I think this is a ‘fruit of the poison tree’ situation). But the secrecy is the giveaway. They knew how bad it would look. Transparency of funding is essential to open scientific discourse. Secret shonky funding isn’t just bad form, it undermines core scientific principles.

  3. says

    Agreed. People who don’t think they’re doing anything wrong don’t bother to hide what they’re doing.

  4. DanDare says

    ” People who don’t think they’re doing anything wrong don’t bother to hide what they’re doing”.
    In this case yes. As a general rule no.
    People may hide something they think is right because they think it will be interfered with by bad peoole, oppressors or other enemies. Its the old “if your not guilty you have nothing to fear” used by oppressive brutes everywhere. Its not a good universal principle.

  5. wzrd1 says

    First off, given the scarcity of research money, I’d have precisely zero problems taking it.
    Then, spending a portion enough to be effective in revealing the crimes, while using the rest for research.

    Welcome to the grey area, where one has more options than the White Knight.
    People make a mistake in thinking I’m a nice man, at times, when honor requires, I’m the purist bastard around.
    I don’t like it, don’t enjoy it, but morality proves me right, in the face of unrighteous bastards.
    A case of using their influence and money against them.

    Only fucked up once, still working on that one.

  6. rrutis1 says

    Marcus @#1, if it’s a venn diagram then it’s a circle

    chrislawson@#2, douchebro, douchebra, let’s call the whole thing off