MIT professor suspended for getting secret donations from Jeffrey Epstein


Seth Lloyd is a well-known MIT professor who has done important work on quantum computing and information theory. (I quote him in my latest book.) But an internal investigation by the university’s law firm Goodwin Proctor, commissioned by MIT after it was revealed that its highly regarded MediaLab had been getting unreported donations from Jeffrey Epstein, reveals that Lloyd has also been getting secret gifts from Epstein.

Seth Lloyd, a mechanical engineering professor, was placed on leave Friday after a law firm hired by the university to investigate the school’s ties with the late financier found that he’d secretly received $225,000 from Epstein over a five-period.

The report on Goodwin Procter’s findings indicates that Epstein viewed his first donation to Lloyd in 2012 “as a trial balloon to test MIT’s willingness to accept donations” following his 2008 sex-crime conviction.

“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.”

“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.”

Students had earlier protested Lloyd’s actions and demanded that he be fired, especially after he had started his course with an explanation of why he maintained his association with Epstein. Eleanor Graham, a fourth year physics student, said that his monologue made her uncomfortable and she wrote an op-ed in the campus newspaper.

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.

Why did Lloyd do this? Could it be just the money? A highly regarded professor at MIT would likely be getting an annual salary that was comparable to what Epstein gave him over five years so it surely could not be money alone? What was Epstein’s appeal to people who really should know better that to have consorted with such an awful person?

Comments

  1. rockwhisperer says

    Unless and until Lloyd explains his thinking (and we decide to believe him), we won’t know his motivation. But allow me to share observations from my own years as a student.

    My BS in computer engineering was given by a well-regarded research-oriented state university. The College of Engineering itself was proud of its record of good teaching, and so a fair number of my professors were invested in what few courses they taught. Still, if you were recognized as a potential PhD student, you got much more attention than if you were merely a B+ average student like me.

    A couple of decades later, I took up studying for an MS in geology at a state university with a teaching mandate. It doesn’t even offer PhDs, and in my department research grants exist to allow graduate students to do the work for their MS theses. We collectively rejoiced when someone would announce that Professor Y got a major grant that would fund 4 or 5 students! At this school, everybody who expressed an interest in anything related to geology got attention. Hey, your undergrad major is in business administration, but you really enjoy your had-to-take-it-for-science-units Prehistoric Life class? Come chat with our undergrad adviser! Hey, your cousin the English major is visiting and wants to join us for lunch while we talk about our project? Oh, and she knows nothing about sedimentation except what you’ve told her? Bring her along! We’ll work on the conference poster abstract, and she can help us condense it. Pulse + interest = welcome.

    Epstein would have been feted by some of the professors at my undergraduate school, because he was a Big Name, an Important Person, and thus a potential connection to better recognition for the university, the school, and the department. After he’d blotted his copybook, to use an old and understated expression, they might still do so but less openly. because if he was willing to fund their Big Projects, maybe his friends would be, too. Connections!

    Epstein would have gotten the cold shoulder at my graduate institution because nothing he could do or say would take away from the fact he’d damaged young people who were not all that dissimilar from those wandering the hallways. If that implied there would be no grant for 4 or 5 grad students to get field samples professionally tested, the department would dig around, beg around, and find the money some other way. On the other hand, Epstein would never have acknowledged that such an institution even existed, because its main focus was not to do something he could feel Important about supporting. We didn’t do Science (or Engineering), we did science/engineering. None of our work would have ever granted him laurels.

    I was honored that two USGS senior geologists, who had helped me with my thesis work, asked for copies. Perhaps one of Epstein’s lesser problems (but maybe great in his own mind) was that he would never, ever be able to make a claim like that.

  2. Mano Singham says

    rockwhisperer,

    You are right that Epstein would never have given your graduate institution even the time of day. There was nothing in it for him.

    When I was the director of the teaching center at my university, I never stopped emphasizing to professors how important it was to treat students as people, not as a pair of hands and brains, and to make them feel welcome. That makes a world of difference.