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Jeffrey Epstein’s Harvard ties were extensive, new report reveals

Jeffrey Epstein (second from left) hosted a dinner at Harvard in 2004. With him were (from left) Alan Dershowitz, Robert Trivers, and Lawrence Summers.
Jeffrey Epstein (second from left) hosted a dinner at Harvard in 2004. With him were (from left) Alan Dershowitz, Robert Trivers, and Lawrence Summers.© 2004 Rick Friedman

Jeffrey Epstein’s millions earned him special treatment at Harvard: He had a personal office among university researchers, a dedicated phone line, an unusual visiting fellowship position, and the backing of several high-level faculty who urged administrators to take the financier’s money despite his record as a registered sex offender.

In a report released on Friday, Harvard outlined these extensive ties with the notorious Epstein, detailing a relationship that spanned more than 25 years.

Epstein died by an apparent suicide last summer in a Manhattan jail where he was being held on charges of sex trafficking of minors, but his close relationships and financial support of scientists and academics continue to rock higher-education institutions such as Harvard and MIT.

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According to a months-long investigation by Harvard’s general counsel and an outside law firm, the university received $9.2 million from Epstein between 1998 and 2007. After Epstein’s 2008 sex conviction, Harvard’s then-president Drew Gilpin Faust barred any more donations from the financier. Still, Faust’s decision wasn’t clear to some faculty and fund-raisers within Harvard who continued to lobby administrators over the years to take money from Epstein.

Individual professors also continued their relationships with Epstein after the conviction, meeting with him, traveling to his homes, and in some cases benefiting from the financier’s connections to other wealthy donors who could support academic research.

In a message to the community, Harvard president Lawrence Bacow said that the university will review gaps in its controversial gifts policies.

“The report issued today describes principled decision-making but also reveals institutional and individual shortcomings that must be addressed — not only for the sake of the University but also in recognition of the courageous individuals who sought to bring Epstein to justice,” Bacow said in a message to the Harvard community.

On Friday, Harvard also announced that it had placed Martin Nowak, a biology and math professor and director of Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, on paid administrative leave over his ties to Epstein and potential violations of the university’s security and grant funding policies.

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Nowak did not respond to requests for comment.

The bulk of Epstein’s Harvard funding, $6.5 million in 2003, went toward establishing Nowak’s program. Over the years, Epstein was a frequent presence at the program’s offices in Harvard Square, according to the report.

In the program’s building, space was scarce, but Office 610 was known as “Jeffrey’s Office” and Epstein decorated it with his own rug and photographs. For a time, Epstein even had his own Harvard phone line, according to the report.

He visited there more than 40 times after he was released from jail in 2010 up until 2018, routinely with young women who acted as his assistants. Despite no official connection with Harvard, Epstein was given key cards to enter the building and office.

Nowak allowed Epstein to use the group’s offices to host dinners and meet with Harvard faculty, area academics, and political figures when he was in town, according to the report.

Epstein’s visits stopped only after researchers in Nowak’s group complained about them.

In 2013, as more damaging allegations against Epstein appeared in the media, he sought to burnish his reputation as a scientific benefactor with philanthropic ties to elite institutions. Nowak allowed Epstein to link his foundations to the professor’s Harvard website. Nowak also created a webpage on his Harvard site dedicated to Epstein’s contributions to the research program. The practice only ended when sexual assault survivor advocates contacted Faust and Nowak’s group in late 2014.

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Nowak and Harvard Medical School professor George Church also benefited from Epstein’s connections to other wealthy donors, receiving millions of dollars in funding between 2010 and 2015 after Epstein made introductions, according to the report.

Harvard’s report also found that in applying for a foundation grant, Nowak falsely stated that an Epstein nonprofit had given his group money.

The report also questioned the decision by Stephen Kosslyn, then chairman of the psychology department, to award Epstein a visiting fellow position in 2005. Kosslyn, a professor emeritus at Harvard, vouched for Epstein despite the financier’s lack of a bachelor’s degree and qualifications to conduct some of the research required of the position.

In his application for a second year as a visiting fellow, Epstein wrote Harvard that he planned to study the “derivation of ‘power’ (Why does everybody want it?) in an ecological social system that would include variables for reputation, trust or awe, and the inherent strategically diverse tactics of deception.”

Epstein, however, had to withdraw from the fellowship in the fall of 2006 when he faced Florida charges of unlawful sex with minors.

Kosslyn did not respond to a request for comment Friday, but told Harvard’s investigators that Epstein “was barely ever around" during his fellowship, according to the report.

The 27-page report makes just a glancing mention of the more informal ties that Epstein cultivated with Harvard’s top academics. In 2008, Harvard Law School professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz helped Epstein secure an advantageous plea deal with Florida federal prosecutors related to the sexual abuse charges. One of Epstein’s accusers has alleged that Dershowitz had sex with her when she was under-aged. Dershowitz has denied those allegations and filed a defamation lawsuit against the woman. No charges have been filed against Dershowitz.

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A 2003 article in the Harvard student newspaper also noted that then-university president Larry Summers was well acquainted with Epstein.

A footnote in Friday’s Harvard report noted, “A number of the Harvard faculty members we interviewed also acknowledged that they visited Epstein at his homes in New York, Florida, New Mexico, or the Virgin Islands, visited him in jail or on work release, or traveled on one of his planes. Faculty members told us that they undertook these off-campus activities primarily in their personal capacities rather than as representatives of Harvard.”

The report said these additional meetings with Epstein did not seem to violate Harvard’s rules or policies.

Claudine Gay, Harvard’s dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, said officials will review Nowak’s conduct.

“We are reminded on a near daily basis what a privilege it is to be a member of this academic community,” Gay said in her message to Harvard’s students and faculty. “With that privilege comes a responsibility to hold one another accountable and to make sure, as an institution, we align our practices with the highest ethical standards.”

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Harvard’s review of its Epstein’s ties comes four months after MIT released its investigation of the financier’s ties to that institution.

MIT found that Epstein made at least nine visits to its campus and gave the university $850,000, and that top administrators, including members of the university president’s senior team, and some faculty members showed “significant errors in judgement” in agreeing to take money from Epstein.

At MIT, former Media Lab director Joi Ito, who courted Epstein’s money, resigned after the ties became public last fall. The university’s mechanical engineering professor Seth Lloyd, who also sought and received Epstein funding, was placed on paid administrative leave while his department reviewed disciplinary procedures.

The report cleared MIT president L. Rafael Reif of any wrongdoing and said he had no involvement in approving the gifts. Still, the Epstein episode roiled that campus and left many faculty members unsatisfied with Reif’s leadership.


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