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MIT disciplines professor over Jeffrey Epstein donations, but will allow him to continue teaching

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus in Cambridge, pictured in July.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus in Cambridge, pictured in July.Maddie Meyer/Getty

Calling a mechanical engineering professor’s decision to accept donations from convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein “poor judgment,” MIT on Friday announced that it will limit his pay and his involvement in undergraduate advising for five years.

Seth Lloyd has been on paid leave since January, after a series of revelations about Epstein’s financial ties to MIT and the longtime professor rocked the campus and led to protests and resignations.

Lloyd will have to take professional conduct training classes before resuming campus activities, including teaching, MIT Provost Martin A. Schmidt said in an e-mail to the community on Friday.

But the discipline is unlikely to satisfy some at MIT who had called for Lloyd’s resignation and is likely to reopen one of the more embarrassing chapters in the university’s recent history.

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“These steps cannot undo the harm done. Professor Lloyd’s failure to share what he knew about Epstein’s conviction when he accepted his 2012 donations was unacceptable,” Schmidt said in the e-mail. “I recognize that many in our community remain deeply disturbed by the interactions with Jeffrey Epstein and that some will be disappointed by this decision.”

According to a report commissioned by MIT earlier this year, Lloyd received $285,000 from Epstein, including a personal gift of $60,000 nearly 15 years ago that was not reported to MIT at the time.

In a statement, Lloyd said he, like many colleagues, thought that Epstein had reformed after serving jail time for an earlier conviction when he accepted a 2012 donation.

“With 2020 hindsight I should have sought further consultation at the time over Epstein’s appropriateness as a donor and communicated his past conviction,” Lloyd said. “I will always regret the pain that the involvement with Epstein has caused his victims and members of the MIT community.”

The university brought together two faculty committees, and a majority of members on the review panel found that Lloyd violated MIT’s policy on faculty misconduct by failing to inform the university that Epstein was a convicted sex offender, but that ultimately he didn’t violate any policies by accepting the donation and didn’t try to circumvent the university’s donor policies.

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MIT at the time did not have any policy to deal with controversial donors.

Since the Epstein donations came to light, the university has been developing policies and guidelines for engaging donors.

Epstein’s ties to MIT became public last summer after the disgraced financier committed suicide in a Manhattan jail cell, where he was being held on charges involving sex trafficking of minors.

Former MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito acknowledged that he had accepted donations from Epstein and resigned in September 2019 after an explosive New Yorker story said that he and others tried to keep Epstein’s funding quiet.

MIT brought in law firm Goodwin Procter to review its relationship with Epstein. The firm found that Epstein had visited MIT at least nine times in recent years and gave the university $850,000. Top administrators at the university were also aware that Epstein was giving the school money, the Goodwin Procter report found, although it cleared MIT President L. Rafael Reif of any involvement in approving the gifts.

Some female employees and students at the university’s vaunted Media Lab said they had complained about Epstein’s involvement but were dismissed.

Two MIT Media Lab researchers resigned in protest over money that Ito took from Epstein for the university and for his own investments in tech startups.

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Students protested on campus, female faculty criticized the school’s priorities, and disgruntled faculty called on Reif to step down.

Epstein’s donations put a spotlight on how universities driven for research funding cultivate wealthy donors and often overlook their controversial histories.

Epstein liked to surround himself with academics and scientists and courted many of the nation’s top universities, including MIT and Harvard.

Earlier this year, a report from Harvard found that Epstein had a personal office among university researchers, a dedicated phone line, and an unusual visiting fellowship position.

High-level faculty at Harvard urged administrators to take the financier’s money despite his record as a registered sex offender.





Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.