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Students Are Demanding MIT Fire a Professor Who Visited Epstein in Prison

An engineering professor who accepted donations from Epstein is advising a freshman seminar at MIT this semester.

by Lauren Kaori Gurley
Nov 4 2019, 5:26pm

Rick Friedman/Rick Friedman Photography/Corbis via Getty Images

A group of students is demanding that MIT fire Seth Lloyd, an undergraduate mechanical engineering professor who visited Jeffrey Epstein in prison.

In late August, MIT admitted that the university had accepted roughly $800,000 from Epstein, and that all of those gifts either went to the MIT Media Lab, or Lloyd.

Eleanor Graham, a fourth-year physics major at MIT, said she faced a tough decision when she received her class schedule this semester. She had enrolled in the only quantum computing class that MIT offers to find out that Lloyd, who had been in the news for accepting funds from Epstein, would be her professor.

Graham attended Lloyd’s first class—but after hearing his lecture, which included an unsolicited “monologue” about his relationship with Epstein—she and at least one other student dropped it, she told Motherboard.

“Some students feel comfortable remaining in the class and others don’t,” Graham told Motherboard. “You can kind of guess who doesn’t. People with a history of sexual trauma or those in underrepresented groups in science already, those are the people who don’t feel comfortable.”

In late October, Graham wrote an op-ed in MIT’s student newspaper, The Tech about her decision.

“I have never been asked to decide whether or not I am willing to learn from a man who knowingly took donations from a convicted pedophile,” she wrote. “As long as Seth Lloyd teaches at MIT, our institution suffers. This is a barrier to learning for survivors of sexual assault, for women (after all, Epstein’s survivors are women), and for others upon others.”

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.

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MIT Students Against War
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MIT Students Against War

Graham’s op-ed resonated with many students. A contingent of them, known as MIT Students Against War, a group which formed this February after Henry Kissinger was invited to speak at a campus event, are now demanding that MIT fire Lloyd, or that he resign.

“Professor Lloyd has made many students deeply uncomfortable given his long-lasting and disturbing ties to Jeffrey Epstein,” a widely circulated statement from the group leading the protest, MIT Students Against War, reads. He “has driven students away from classes they were interested in taking by openly discussing and excusing his ties to a known and convicted child sex-trafficker. Why is he still teaching? Why is he still welcome at MIT?”

“I have never been asked to decide whether or not I am willing to learn from a man who knowingly took donations from a convicted pedophile."

Since early October, students have held protests, a forum, and met with administrators directly, asking why the university has allowed him to remain on campus. Lloyd is even teaching a freshman advising course. Two other professors with ties to Epstein, including Richard Stallman, the famed founder of the free software movement, have resigned.

“People have held the Media Lab accountable. There have been at least two resignations there. But Seth Lloyd has flown under the radar,” Graham, who is 21, told Motherboard.

On October 4, roughly 100 students gathered at MIT Corporation’s annual board meeting demanding Lloyd’s resignation. The day before, students held a forum about Epstein’s ties to MIT attended by MIT’s president, Rafael Reif and other administrators, during which Seth Lloyd’s resignation came up. A group of core organizers met with Reif privately afterwards.

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MIT Students Against War

“[Reif] didn’t give satisfying responses to any of our demands, specifically around Seth Lloyd. There hasn’t been any movement as far as we can tell and see,” Husayn Karimi, 22, a master’s student in computer science and a lead organizer with MIT Students Against War, told Motherboard. “If MIT wants to not make any moves and expects this also to just go away, that’s not going to happen... MIT tells us to make the world a better place, but it’s one of the most immutable places in the world.”

Graham said she’s received similar responses from MIT administrators. “I’ve spoken to MIT about Seth Lloyd and they’ve said they think my op-ed was brave, but they can’t tell me about the Seth Lloyd situation because it’s a personnel matter.”

On October 31, students in Halloween costumes protested in the halls outside Lloyd’s office with signs that said “Seth Lloyd Must Go,” while several MIT police officers hovered nearby, according to students in attendance.

Do you have a story to tell about sexual assault or harassment in tech? We'd like to hear from you and your friends. You can message Lauren securely on Signal or Telegram at 201-897-2109 or email her at lauren.gurley@vice.com.

MIT Students Against War are also demanding that the administration send a campus wide apology email acknowledging its failures in accepting donations from Epstein and how the events have impacted women and survivors on campus. “This step is essential for members of the MIT community to begin to heal and for making folks feel safe,” they wrote in a widely circulated statement that they presented to administrators. Additionally, they’re asking that the administration organize department specific forums led by outside facilitators to discuss the MIT-Epstein crisis, create whistleblower protections, and allow graduate students and researchers to reject funds for reasons of ethics and academic freedom.

So far, the administration has not met any of these demands. MIT did not respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.

Seth Lloyd told Motherboard he would not comment as MIT is currently investigating his case. In August, he published an apology to Epstein’s victims on Medium. Of his visit to Epstein in prison, he wrote, “I believed, at the time, that I was doing a good deed. Mr. Epstein expressed remorse for his actions and assured me that he would not re-offend.”

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sexual assault
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