The Case Against Seth Lloyd

Months after the Epstein scandal blew up, MIT continues to delay any meaningful action and faculty continue to incriminate themselves.

Note: On November 21st, an abridged version of this piece was published in The Tech, MIT’s student newspaper.

Seth Lloyd, bottom right, allegedly pictured on Jeffrey Epstein’s ‘Pedophile Island’ in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Source: Twitter
One of a series of statements by Seth Lloyd captured on video by MITSAW. Source: Twitter

Seth Lloyd, the tenured professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, should not be teaching. This August it was revealed that Lloyd took funding from child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein and that he visited Epstein during his ‘prison stay’ in the Palm Beach County Jail. Despite this, MIT did not suspend Lloyd from teaching, nor did the administration prevent him from advising freshmen students. Once the semester started, Lloyd used his classroom as a soapbox to monologue about his relation with Epstein. As a result, at least one student dropped his class. Since learning of this situation, MIT Students Against War has been demanding that Seth Lloyd be fired or resign.

On Thursday, October 31, MIT Students Against War staged a silent protest outside of Seth Lloyd’s quantum computation class. The protest was announced a week in advance with flyers and on social media. In response, on the day of the class the students were sent to a different classroom while Lloyd lectured over video link from their usual classroom [Appendix 2]. MIT assigned three police officers to guard the classroom where the students sat, and four to guard the classroom in which Seth Lloyd delivered his lecture. This disproportionate administrative reaction to student organizing was uncalled for and extremely hostile.

As Eleanor Graham’s recent opinion piece in The Tech made clear, students should not be taught by a professor who worked to rehabilitate Jeffrey Epstein’s reputation after his conviction. Allowing Seth Lloyd to continue teaching at MIT is deeply harmful to students from a psychological, emotional, and pedagogical point of view. This is especially true when Lloyd uses class time to talk about his relationship with Epstein. Professor Lloyd has even encouraged his students to defend him, suggesting the use of class time for a debate between his student supporters and those who were protesting his class. All of this has created a dynamic in which some students in the class feel they cannot speak up to their friends. During our October 31 protest outside of Lloyd’s course, a student who is still enrolled in the class told MITSAW that they did not want their classmates to find out they were at the protest, because they were concerned that these classmates would not agree with their views. It should be clear that the irresponsible actions of the MIT administration have allowed Professor Lloyd to turn his class — which is supposed to focus on quantum computation — into a forum for him to garner support for his actions and tacitly intimidate those who disagree into silence.

After the class ended, we spoke to Seth Lloyd outside his classroom for more than 30 minutes. Selected quotes from this conversation can be found in the appendix [Appendix 1], which are transcribed from recorded video of the conversation. Lloyd confirmed having visited Epstein’s notorious island in the Virgin Islands, the same island where Epstein allegedly kept girls hostage and raped them. He repeatedly justified his choice to accept funding from Epstein as a normal thing one does when helping to rehabilitate a friend who has served time in prison. In the course of our conversation, Professor Lloyd admitted that he had never looked into the public allegations against Epstein, and sought to frame himself as the victim of Epstein’s guile.

[T]he times when I visited his house and his island were at a conference. It was with scientists and their spouses [..]There was a conference in the, um uh, Virgin Islands on astrobiology, and he had a lunch for the people in the conference and their spouses who were with them. It was a very kind of like family time kind of thing. There wasn’t anything suspicious.”

Lloyd openly admitted that he trusted the words of Epstein and did not even bother to investigate the allegations of Epstein’s many victims. We assert that — even assuming Professor Lloyd somehow managed to get through the last decade without ever learning of the mountain of accusations against Epstein — this would display a severe enough degree of negligence that he should no longer be employed at MIT. It seems to us that Epstein’s offer of hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding — some of which Lloyd used to take a sabbatical — was all it took for him to turn a blind eye to Epstein’s many crimes.

“It wasn’t money that I needed. I took it because I thought that it was my obligation to do so, because I had said I was going to help with him coming back into society.”

When we questioned Lloyd about these matters he continually deflected by trying to shift the conversation to the abstract question of rehabilitating people with criminal pasts. In doing so he attempted to frame his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein as a noble endeavor to help a friend who had made a mistake. Lloyd made no mention of the fact that allegations had emerged that Epstein abused trafficked women while on “work leave” during his sentence. Absent from his justification was any serious grappling with the fact the friend in question was a multi-millionaire pedophile sex trafficker. The absurdity of Lloyd’s reasoning was most evident when he repeatedly implied that taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from Epstein was an act of rehabilitation.

Lloyd addresses a protester filming him. Source: MIT Students Against War

Funding for research and a sabbatical has not been the only material benefit Seth Lloyd received from his close friendship with Jeffrey Epstein. On October 28th, 2019, three days before MITSAW’s silent protest, a “talk” by Lloyd was uploaded to the website of Edge, the organization that until 2015 received the majority of its funding from Epstein and which hosted the notorious “billionaire dinners” that have been recently scrutinized in the news media. Buzzfeed recently published an exposé detailing the relationship between Epstein and Edge, which is run by John Brockman, the literary agent who sat at the center of the network of patronage that helped connect Epstein with elite scientists and shield his reputation. To this day, Lloyd publicly continues his relationship with Brockman, and maintains a series of other relationships with people and organizations closely linked to Epstein. This is further evidence that Seth Lloyd has not reckoned with the impact of his actions or those of others who enabled Epstein to get away with his monstrous crimes.

MIT has a documented record of failing to deal with inappropriate and harmful behavior by faculty. In one out of multiple such cases in the last year, Richard Stallman was pressured to resign from CSAIL when a series of people came forward to describe having been harassed in some manner by him over the last several decades. In a recent survey on sexual misconduct at MIT, it was found that faculty and instructors make up 18.1% of the instigators of reported harassment. This is almost double the national Association of American Universities rate of 9.6%. It also shouldn’t be surprising, given that MIT did not have an explicitly-defined policy prohibiting romantic or sexual relationships between students and faculty until 2018. This is evidence of a toxic culture, the kind of culture which naturally takes root at a university historically dominated by men, and an inability by the administration to hold prominent faculty members accountable for their behavior.

When asked about Seth Lloyd at the November 5th community forum, Provost Marty Schmidt read a statement [Appendix 3] effectively stating that they had placed the decision-making power on the students currently in Lloyd’s class, and alleging that they had opened up channels, direct and anonymous, for student feedback. Two days later, on 11/7, an email was sent to students in Seth Lloyd’s class [Appendix 4] from the department heads of physics, mathematics, and mechanical engineering, announcing that they had decided to keep Lloyd assigned to the class through the rest of the semester. The logic behind this decision-making process is quite concerning. It shows that the MIT administration believes that if the majority of the students in the class do not raise their voices in opposition to Seth Lloyd, then he should be allowed to teach. However, as the #MeToo movement has shown, powerful men often use their positions of authority to effectively silence criticism. Since the start of the semester Seth Lloyd has repeatedly used class time to talk about and justify his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein. During the confrontation with MITSAW recounted above, Lloyd defended this use of class time by declaring that academia “is a tough business” and that students deserve the truth about his actions so they can “make their own decisions” about whether to stay in the class. In a recent class, he even went so far as to joke that some of the people who protested him were not human. Whether or not Professor Lloyd has insidious intent, his place at the front of the classroom gives him all the power in dictating the terms of discussion — discussion that shouldn’t be happening in the first place, given what he himself has admitted to.

The group from which the administration is soliciting feedback on whether Lloyd should continue teaching excludes the very students, like Eleanor, who dropped the class because of him. Soliciting feedback in this manner allows the administration to wash its hands of the inevitable outrage over the decision to retain Lloyd as a professor. They can simply claim to be following the lead of the students in the class. This ignores the fact that many still in the class are unlikely to come forward for fear of reprisal and for lack of faith in administrative processes.

The callous approach being taken by the MIT administration has placed many students in a difficult position. While meeting with an administrator, one student still in Lloyd’s class received unprompted and resolute insistence that Lloyd would keep teaching, including an argument that any immediate discipline would lead to a ‘slippery slope’ under which many other professors could face similar consequences. As for the dynamic of students in the class, this student told us,

“[I]t’s kind of a conflict of interest because we might be uncomfortable with Lloyd and some of us definitely are but this is the only class on the subject at MIT, and for many it fills a requirement/otherwise affects your schedule going on.”

Rather than take any meaningful action on behalf of the well-being of students, MIT has chosen to face them with an unending, unsympathetic bureaucracy. Students are forced to go from meeting to meeting presenting their resurfaced trauma in the hopes that these efforts will result in a never-to-come change. The higher-ups are responsible for the retraumatization of a vast marginalized part of its community. One must ask: to what end?

The reality is that MIT and its administration function to protect the powerful at all costs. The administration is working to do damage control for its long-standing relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, in an attempt to preserve its own power, reputation, and influence. They are doing this instead of adopting a survivor and trauma-centered process. In what has become one of the largest sexual assault scandals in the U.S., MIT has taken anything but responsible action. There is a rot at MIT. This ‘process’ has only shined a spotlight on it. As a community, we must speak out in solidarity with survivors everywhere now, or we will be responsible for perpetuating the violence and oppression that so many face here at MIT and around the world.

It should have been an easy choice to suspend Professor Lloyd from teaching and advising before the semester ever began, when Lloyd released his apology and stated what he had done. The Quantum Computation course has been taught by other professors in the past, and could have been taught by any of them this fall. By deferring any action until a vaguely-defined “fact-finding” process has been completed, MIT continues to punish survivors and other students who are rightly disturbed by forcing them, if they wish to pursue their course of study, to take a class taught by a professor who had a close and long-standing relationship with an international sex trafficker who ruined the lives of hundreds of teenaged girls. We want to be very clear: the non-action by MIT administrators has dealt direct harm to students like Eleanor, who are now being swept under the rug as if the only voices that matter are those who have both decided to stay in Seth Lloyd’s class and feel comfortable enough to speak their minds on the issue. The impact of allowing Lloyd to continue teaching extends to people far beyond the classroom, but it seems that as far as MIT is concerned these people are irrelevant to Institute decision-making.

As the administrator whose comments appeared earlier implied, there is a clear explanation for why no action has been taken: it follows that if obvious moral standards are placed on professors like Seth Lloyd, then they would also need to be placed on administrators, like President Rafael Reif, who were complicit in their behavior. It also would require holding other professors accountable for their associations with child sex traffickers (a high bar, apparently). It would require a real reckoning with the clear pattern, mentioned above, of faculty engaging in harassment and assault of students and others in the community. The MIT administration has no interest in holding itself accountable at the highest levels. By drawing out and obfuscating this “fact-finding” process as long as possible, they are hoping that the outrage on campus and in the media will subside so that they can continue to preserve the status quo.

At a September faculty meeting, faced with calls for his own resignation, President Reif responded, “I want to beg you, honest to goodness, wait a little longer.” We will not wait a day longer. We will not wait for these conversations to happen weeks from now, in a back room, on terms dictated by the very people who committed the relevant offenses. We will not wait as the MIT administration continues to protect their own reputations and careers while trampling the most vulnerable members of our population. The ‘right time’ for action has already passed.

Appendix

[1] Quotes from Seth Lloyd post-protest (10/31)

  • (Asked about the reporting on the possibly trafficked women who were with Epstein during his visit to MIT, and if he saw these women when he had lunch with Epstein and Ito): “I think this is not true. So I knew Mr. Epstein for a long time and I saw him on many occasions. I never saw him with underage women. And I actually never saw him do anything creepy. But the one creepy thing about him is he traveled around with two assistants who were women in their twenties. Who were typically very beautiful and they were presumably former Victoria’s Secret models. And they were the people who, you know, brought him his peanut butter sandwiches. And those were the people I saw. Now they were not underaged. I talked with them; they were intelligent young women in their twenties, but it was creepy that he traveled around with them. However I never saw him with a bunch of underage, with any underage women. At all… The side I saw was just like, this billionaire who happens to travel around with two, which was creepy by the way, it was like, it made people, it made me, nervous and uneasy.”
  • (Asked whether he visited Epstein’s Island): “Yeah well, I went, the times when I visited his house and his island were at a conference. It was with scientists and their spouses [..]There was a conference in the, um uh, Virgin Islands on astrobiology, and he had a lunch for the people in the conference and their spouses who were with them. It was a very kind of like family time kind of thing. There wasn’t anything suspicious.”
  • (Asked if he was aware of the many lawsuits publicly filed against Epstein over the years): “No so, I agree that I should have known that, but I didn’t know that. I actually don’t look up myself of Wikipedia, I don’t look up my friends on Wikipedia, and I was not aware this was going on. If I had been aware of it, I certainly would not have accepted his money.”
  • (Asked why he thought taking Epstein’s money was okay): “Let me just say, it was clearly the wrong thing to do, because it’s caused all this trouble for people and this made people very upset.”
  • (On whether Epstein deserved a second chance): “The real victims here are the people who he abused. That’s, let us think about them, not about like, you know, people, like him coming out afterwards. You know he wasn’t charged with violating his parole, err, violating the terms of his parole. He was not charged with reoffending.”
  • (On the money he took from Epstein): “It wasn’t money that I needed. I took it because I thought that it was my obligation to do so, because I had said I was going to help with him coming back into society.”
  • MIT Students Against War: “So taking hundreds of thousands of dollars or a hundred thousand dollars from a multimillionaire who has connections with billionaires across the world, internationally, would rehabilitate him? How?”
    Seth Lloyd: “In the sense of giving him support so he wouldn’t offend again.”
    MITSAW: “So by taking his money, you are supporting him?”
    SL: “People, who are, you know, if you support people, in a society, in a way that makes them feel part of that society, convicted criminals deserve our support, to rehabilitate themselves.”
  • “Mr. Epstein approached me because he liked giving money to science, and he approached me because he was having trouble giving money to science.”
  • “I think it was a gross miscarriage of justice, and I was completely shocked when I found out what a gross miscarriage of justice it was, last December, it was terrible. And you know, prior to that point, because I didn’t know what was going on, because I should have… that was negligence on my part.”
  • MITSAW: “What is rehabilitation to you?”
    SL: “So, uh, what I hoped was that he would not go out and commit another such crime, abuse another woman. That was what I hoped.
    MITSAW: “And you felt that taking his money helped that?”
    SL: “I felt that by talking with him, and through talking with him about this, you know, and checking in on him, and making a you know, allowing, taking his money was something he wanted to do for a, to do science[…]I actually think that, yeah, that’s completely fine in my opinion. If someone has committed a crime and done a reasonable sentence for that crime, it’s completely reasonable to take their money as part of the rehabilitation.”
  • (On why it was right to use class time to defend his relationship with Epstein): “The reason that I told the students everything I knew in the class — I also did this in my freshman seminar, after giving a very extensive trigger warning. And I didn’t do this without thinking about this — I consulted with my department chair about this. And she said, and I agree, and I think that you may agree as well, that the students are very confused and upset right now and one of the main reasons is they don’t know what’s going on. And so I actually was and am in a position to actually tell them what’s going on. And I think that it would be […] much more helpful for them to actually know the truth. I think MIT students deserve to know the truth about this, this is a tough business, and, you know, they deserve to know the truth about this, so they can make their own judgements.”

[2] Email Sent to Lloyd’s Students (10/30)

As you may have heard, a student protest is planned for tomorrow at our classroom, 4–370, during class time. To allow all students to come to 8.370 in a safe and unimpeded way, we have arranged a satellite classroom, 4–231, that Seth’s lecture will be live-streamed into, and we request that all students go to 4–231 to listen to the lecture tomorrow.

Students who wish to join the protest or counter protest should restrict their activities to areas outside the classrooms.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to email me, Evelyn Wang (cc’d), or Professor Lloyd (cc’d). I’ve included my cell phone number below as well in case of any last-minute questions.

To reiterate: please come to 4–231 tomorrow for class at 1p. Seth will lecture in 4–370 and we’ll livestream it to 4–231.

Best,

[TA name redacted]

[redacted phone number]

[3] Transcribed exchanges from MIT Community Forum on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Misconduct (11/5)

On Reporting of Faculty Harassment Statistics

Barnhart: Thanks for your comments. And you’re absolutely right, um, transparency is very important, and um, we pride ourselves on being a data-driven institution. And you and others have brought this to our attention, and it is something we’re working on. It’s actually not that we’ve ignored it, it’s that we have to balance what was discussed earlier today, the privacy concerns, with transparency. And in the recent data, we need to be especially careful that we don’t identify people, and that has been our challenge. So please don’t think that we are trying to hide it. I think the survey really hit hard the point that we have been hearing from the students, in my case, that, um, they don’t know what happens when they register a complaint, and that is one of the reasons that president Reif thought about how to respond to the national academy’s report, that one of the groups that linked together was the [something something].

Student 1: Followup question, which is, are we already violating the privacy and anonymity of students in the data that we’re releasing? Because you said privacy was a concern and we’re already releasing data about students. We release the same about faculty, which we have more data about over the past three years than students, it shouldn’t be a concern.

Barnhart: Well, actually, I’m not sure how you have that information, that’s not the information I have. So the information we release about students in an aggregate way, to ensure anonymity–

MG: So, can’t we have the same aggregate information about faculty that I asked fo two years ago?

Barnhart: That’s exactly what we are working to do, but at this point, we don’t have enough information to release it without, um, [inaudible]. I’m not sure if you saw the full reports, but this is absolutely a concern of these groups, and a desire to work through that.

Student 1: But we have more formal reports about students, I mean about faculty complaints than about students that have gone through. In the past, like, four years.

Student 1: Hi. Previously you mentioned that there wasn’t enough data on faculty harassment cases, and if you look at the last four years of the Title IX report, there were 24 formal reports sent to human resources, which means faculty and/or staff, and 23 reports to the committee on discipline, which means that they’re students. So, there’s approximately the same number, and it’s possible to average over more years to get the anonymity you want. And so I don’t think the privacy is that much of a concern. [Inaudible]

Sarah Rankin: I was just going to say I think you’re raising a point that we’ve been talking about for a while, and within human resources, especially, there has not been a practice of public reporting of really any, reports of any employee complaints of any kind. You know this subject along with anything, and so, one of the things that we’ve been shifting towards is centralizing all of this so that we can create one community but we haven’t decided that it was useful to sort of go back in time and try to recreate the, um, allegations that have come up to date, but moving forward that’s exactly what we’re going to be doing. So I think you’re raising a good point, and I think that historically that’s really not been the practice of HR, and so, those cases now being under HR that was one of the driving forces for sort of centralizing it so that we can convey all of this moving forward.

On Seth Lloyd

Barnhart: To answer that question, I’m going to ask our provost, Marty Schmidt, to come up and address this.

Schmidt: So uh, I want to say that our immediate concern right now is what’s in the best interest of the students that are currently enrolled in his class. Towards that end, we’ve asked the Department head Evelyn Wang, and the Dean, to check in with the students that are currently in the class. particularly involving the student forum earlier in the semester, and most recently after the protests last week to ensure that students’, uh, best interests are being counted. We’ve been, we’ve offered both direct communication channels, through department leadership, as well as anonymous channels. We’ve received some, uh, feedback from the students, we’re processing that information, but at this point, um, we believe that right now, um, we’re trying to get a picture of the students that are currently in the class, and let that inform our decisions. Uh, beyond that, we’re waiting for the results of the fact-finding to determine what’s the best course of action.

Student 2: So you think it’s appropriate for him to be teaching while they do the fact-finding?

Schmidt: I think that should be informed by how the students currently in the class are feeling.

Student 2: The students who haven’t dropped the class because of him?

Schmidt: That’s correct.

[4] Email to Students in Lloyd’s Quantum Computation Class (11/7)

We would like to provide you with an update on the email we sent you last week. First, we want to thank the many students who shared their thoughts and feedback with us. We have reviewed all of your messages. All of the feedback we have received thus far from the students currently enrolled in class 2.111/8.370/18.435 has been supportive of Professor Lloyd continuing to teach the class. Additionally, we have thought deeply about the views of members of the wider MIT community who are not currently enrolled in this class and value their views. Taking all feedback we’ve received into careful consideration, we believe that at this stage it is best for Professor Lloyd to continue as course instructor.

As the semester continues, we strongly encourage you to continue an open dialogue with us. You are welcome to share your thoughts directly with one of us or anonymously through the SurveyMonkey link, which we will keep live throughout the remainder of the semester.

We will continue to keep your best interests in mind and ensure you can learn in an environment where you feel supported. If you want to talk with anyone else about your experiences — either in this class or anything else you might be experiencing — please find the list of resources available to members of the MIT community below.

Best,

Evelyn Wang, Department Head, Mechanical Engineering [e-mail address redacted]

Peter Fisher, Department Head, Physics [e-mail address redacted]

Michel Goemans, Department Head, Math [e-mail address redacted]

List of Resources

- Student Resources

- Mental Health & Counseling Services at MIT Medical

- MIT Ombuds Office

- Title IX and Bias Response Office

- Violence Prevention & Response

- MIT Police: Anonymous Sexual Assault Form

MIT Students Against War

Written by

Find us on Twitter @MIT_SAW and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MIT-Students-Against-War-328543951122099/

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade