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MIT students protest prof with SFI ties

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

An external professor and member of the science board at Santa Fe Institute has been placed on paid leave by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, after a new report shed new light on the MIT faculty member’s relationship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Seth Lloyd, a tenured professor of mechanical engineering who has ties with the

MIT Students Against War held a silent protest outside of Professor Seth Lloyd’s classroom in October. (Courtesy photo)

Santa Fe Institute dating back to 1988, had received $225,000 of the $850,000 that Epstein foundations had donated to MIT, with all but $100,000 of the total received by the prestigious Cambridge school after Epstein’s 2008 conviction for solicitation of prostitution in Florida.

Epstein, a billionaire financier who had a fascination for abstract concepts and young women and girls, had over the years also given $275,000 to SFI, a renowned complexity science research and education center located on Hyde Park Road. But only $25,000 was donated to SFI after Epstein pleaded guilty to the Florida charges.

Last month, SFI donated $25,000 to Solace Crisis Treatment Center, a Santa Fe-based non-profit that works to empower victims of sexual violence and other trauma.

While MIT has said it would contribute an amount equivalent to the all of the contributions it received from Epstein to his victims or organizations that work on behalf of victims of sexual violence, SFI told the Journal late last year that it

MIT students have staged protests calling for Professor Seth Lloyd and President Rafael Reif to resign (Courtesy photo)

doesn’t plan to give away any more than the $25,000 it received from Epstein after his conviction.

Nor does it appear that SFI is taking any action regarding Lloyd, as MIT did.

“As far as I know, SFI does not have plans to follow suit, though it’s worth noting that as an external professor, Seth is not actually on our payroll,” SFI spokeswoman Jenna Marshall wrote in an email to the Journal.

She did not respond to follow up questions she invited the Journal to submit.

Besides making contributions to SFI, Epstein, who investigators determined died by suicide in a New York jail in August while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges involving dozens of girls, had at least one other tie to New Mexico. He owned a ranch in southern Santa Fe County that according to New York Times reporting last year he planned to use as a base to impregnate women in order to “seed” the human race with his DNA.

Student pressure

MIT has been under pressure from some students and alumni to sever its ties with Lloyd.

Joi Ito, director of MIT’s Media Lab, the institute’s research laboratory that was the beneficiary of most of the contributions Epstein made to the Cambridge university, was forced to resign in September.

The new MIT report released Jan. 10, conducted by the Goodwin Proctor LLC and commissioned by the university “to better understand” the extent of Epstein’s interactions with the school, states that both Ito and Lloyd deliberately concealed donations from Epstein, something Lloyd denies. He was placed on leave that same day.

In October, Eleanor Graham, a student in one of Lloyd’s classes, set off a string of guest columns slanted against Lloyd that appeared in The Tech, a weekly student newspaper. In it, she wrote that allowing Lloyd to continue to teach at MIT puts the next generation of scientists in a difficult position.

“The opportunity to study quantum computation should not be restricted by how easily you can put aside your moral discomfort regarding a man who takes money from pedophiles as a supposed act of charity,” wrote Graham, who ended up dropping the class. “By continuing to teach, by continuing to be a part of the scientific community, Seth Lloyd is continuing to do harm.”

Later that month, MIT Students Against War staged a silent protest outside of Lloyd’s classroom, prompting Lloyd to conduct his lecture over a video link with police officers guarding both the classroom where the students were and the one in which Lloyd gave his talk.

During Parent’s Weekend last fall, the group printed hundreds of posters with messages like “Seth Lloyd Must Go” and posted them around campus.

The group demanded Lloyd’s resignation and pressured MIT President Rafael Reif to get rid of him. When he at first didn’t take action with Lloyd, they called for Reif’s resignation and staged protests that were anything but silent.

Alonso Espinosa-Domínguez, an MIT senior majoring in mathematics, said in an email to the Journal that Reif told them that all he could do was ask the provost and Lloyd’s department head to look into options. But it was Rief who eventually placed Lloyd on leave.

“Which means Reif had more authority than he let on initially,” said Espinosa-Domínguez, who is also one of the co-founders of MIT Students Against War.

He says that Reif placed Lloyd on leave pending the department head’s determination of appropriate action.

“But we do not trust that MIT will not simply decide that the ‘appropriate action’ is to reinstate him once the media attention dies down, and so we intend to continue applying pressure,” he said.

Espinosa-Domínguez said that keeping Lloyd on staff at MIT sends the wrong message.

“People like Seth Lloyd, Joi Ito, and all the other high-profile scientists, business people, publicists, etc., who over the years continued to vouch for Epstein, despite all the obvious evidence available of his multiple sex crimes against women and underage girls and his overall patriarchal attitude toward women, directly enabled him,” he wrote. “This is reflective of a broader issue in our society wherein, especially in elite, male circles, sexual predators and the commodification of women are widely tolerated and enabled. If MIT were serious about combatting this grave issue which plagues it, science, and society overall, they would take the basic step of parting ways with Lloyd.”

Lloyd’s SFI associations

Lloyd’s association with SFI started four years after its founding in 1984.

One of the founders was Murray Gell-Mann, under whom Lloyd studied applications of information to quantum-mechanical systems while a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology.

Gell-Mann, a professor at the University of New Mexico in the 1990s and early 2000s who died in Santa Fe last year, was friendly with Epstein and acknowledged Epstein’s financial contributions to SFI in his 1994 book “The Quark and the Jaguar, Adventures in the Simple and the Complex.” The New Times reported he was also a guest of Epstein at dinners and scientific conferences.

According to the MIT report, Lloyd was introduced to Epstein by his book agent at a dinner in 2004. Lloyd told investigators that he received his first contribution from Epstein in 2005 or 2006.

Epstein was first investigated for committing sex crimes with children in 2005 after a parent of a 14-year-old girl contacted police in Palm Beach, Florida. A probable cause affidavit was filed by police in 2006.

But there was something unusual about that first donation of $60,000.

“In a possible violation of MIT policies and certainly in violation of MIT norms, Professor Lloyd deposited the gift into a personal bank account and did not report it to MIT,” the report states.

In a statement Lloyd posted last week on the online publishing platform medium.com – the same website Lloyd published an apology to Epstein’s victims in August – Lloyd explained that Epstein offered him a “personal grant” for his research and told him to set up a nonprofit as a vehicle to accept the grant. That took a long time, he said, and Epstein ended up giving him the money as a gift, on which he paid a gift tax. The money was used to support his scientific research, he said.

He also said that he wasn’t then aware of any accusations of sexual misconduct against Epstein.

“At the time that I accepted the 2006 grant (years before his 2008 conviction), my knowledge was that Epstein was a wealthy individual who liked to support science, and so accepting an unrestricted personal grant from him for performing scientific research was unproblematic,” he said.

Later, Lloyd visited Epstein’s private island near St. Thomas, where it is now alleged that Epstein committed many of his sex crimes. A lawsuit against Epstein’s estate filed last week by the government of the U.S. Virgin Islands alleges Epstein raped and otherwise sexually abused girls, some as young as 12 and as recently as 2018, after he lured them to the island of Little St. James.

The MIT report says Lloyd attended a lunch there with other scientists and was only there for “a few hours.”

Visit to Epstein

Even after Epstein’s conviction, Lloyd continued to carry on a relationship with Epstein and accept money from him. The Goodwin Proctor report for MIT says Lloyd made efforts to hide the source of two $50,000 donations in 2012, which were unsolicited, and a $125,000 contribution in 2017.

Those donations came after Lloyd visited Epstein while he was serving his 18-month sentence on the 2008 conviction. This was no jailhouse meeting, however. It occurred in an office Epstein used while on “work release” during what has been criticized as an exceptionally light sentence.

Lloyd later explained that in continuing his relationship with Epstein he felt he could help with his “rehabilitation.”

The report indicates that Lloyd and Ito fostered a relationship with Epstein in an effort to obtain funding for their research but they didn’t want others to know the money was coming from Epstein.

“The fact-finding revealed that, despite Epstein’s criminal record, and his registration as a sex offender, Professor Lloyd and former Media Lab Director Ito attempted to cultivate Epstein as a potential source of research and program funding and drove the efforts to obtain donations from and through him,” the report states.

This took place while MIT was working “to limit Epstein’s donations, and affiliation with, MIT.”

“In summary, Professor Lloyd knew that donations from Epstein would be controversial and that MIT might reject them,” the report states. “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. In his interview, Professor Lloyd acknowledged that he had been ‘professionally remiss’ in not alerting MIT to Epstein’s criminal record.”

Lloyd’s statement last week characterizes things differently.

“I didn’t hide the fact that Epstein was donating money to MIT. Nor did I conspire with Epstein to avoid any vetting process,” he wrote. “I actively inquired about MIT’s proper procedures for accepting donations, and I followed them to the letter.”

But the Goodwin Proctor report found that one of the 2012 donations listed Lesley Groff, an assistant to Epstein and now a defendant and co-conspirator in civil cases against Epstein, was handling the contribution on the donor’s end.

“The only reasonable inference is that Professor Lloyd did this to obscure the fact that Epstein was the donor and to hinder any possible due diligence or vetting by MIT,” the report says.

This, too, Lloyd denies.

“The accusation that I hid Epstein’s identity from MIT, which is leveled in the recently released Goodwin Proctor report, is completely false,” he wrote. “I never hid the identity of Epstein as the donor prior to the donation being accepted. I facilitated the submission of the donation approval request to the MIT officers exactly so they could vet it. MIT knew that the donor was Epstein and fully approved the donation with this knowledge.”

Lloyd said he wasn’t trying to diminish his mistakes or make excuses for his lapse of judgment, “which will continue to weigh on my conscience for the rest of my life.”

Lloyd declined to be interviewed by the Journal. He did alert the Journal to the statement he posted last week.

“I will not be commenting further at the moment,” he added.

 

(Editor’s Note: MIT President Rafael Reif’s name was misspelled in the original version of this story)

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