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Harvard Reports on Investigation of Jeffrey Epstein Gifts

5.1.20


President Lawrence S. Bacow reported to the community this afternoon that the gifts to Harvard from Jeffrey Epstein were in line with those he disclosed last September: $9.1 million between 1998 and 2008, with no gifts received following Epstein’s conviction in 2008. Epstein, who apparently took his own life while imprisoned last August, was facing numerous further charges of sexual assault. But as a result of further investigation, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has placed a professor, whose research Epstein underwrote, on paid administrative leave, pending an investigation of the professor’s role in granting Epstein access to an office, circumventing Harvard security, and posting materials about Epstein (at Epstein’s request) on the research program website (see details below).

In a letter to Bacow on the Office of General Counsel’s investigation of the gifts, Diane Lopez, vice president and general counsel, wrote that Harvard did not accept gifts from Epstein after his conviction “based on deliberate decisions not to accept gifts from him made by senior Harvard officials who recognized the aberrant and unacceptable nature of his conduct.” The investigation did address concerns about his efforts to serve as an intermediary for donations, his appointment as a Visiting Fellow, and his visits to a Harvard academic office he had funded. (Full texts of both letters, and a link to the report, appear below.)

Donor relations. Following his conviction, Epstein "did continue efforts to interest other donors in supporting research at Harvard.…With respect to one of these donors, we established that Epstein or his associates helped to facilitate the gift transactions, as more fully described in the report.” Although her investigation did not reveal information that would contradict donors’ claim that their decisions to make gifts were arrived at independently, “Nevertheless, development officers at Harvard knew about Epstein’s continued involvement in encouraging others to donate to Harvard and did not take steps to discourage these efforts despite knowing that gifts would not be welcome from him.  No one violated any Harvard policy in this regard, as there is none; a matter we recommend be rectified.”

The underlying report details President Drew Faust’s and Faculty of Arts and Sciences dean Michael D. Smith’s independent decisions not to permit gifts from Epstein in 2008 and 2013. Faculty members had sought permission to accept gifts in support of a program he had previously supported, and the math department; and he was apparently extended an invitation to join the launch for The Harvard Campaign (but did not attend). It also details Epstein’s involvement in securing significant support from Leon and Debra Black (who are significant donors to diverse Harvard schools).

Visiting Fellowship. Epstein also received an appointment as a Visiting Fellow, in 2005, even though “we conclude, and no one argues to the contrary, that Epstein lacked the academic qualifications Visiting Fellows typically possess and his application proposed a course of study Epstein was unqualified to pursue.”

Campus visits. He further visited the office of the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics (which he had funded with a gift of $6.5 million) more than 40 times between 2010 and 2018—well after his conviction. Although he apparently did not engage with undergraduates, Epstein did use the visits to network with faculty members. “While inviting Epstein to campus did not violate any Harvard policies,” the report continues, “aspects of his relationship to the PED, such as his access to the program’s offices, treatment on the PED’s website and interactions concerning one grant application, do implicate Harvard policies and our findings and recommendations address these issues.” In response to the documentation of these visits, Faculty of Arts and Sciences dean Claudine Gay wrote separately that professor of mathematics and of biology Martin Nowak, director of the program, has been placed on paid administrative leave pending a review of possible violations of FAS policies and standards of professional conduct. (Gay’s message appears below.)

The Lopez report details Epstein’s significant efforts to secure additional funding for Nowak’s project. The project offices are at One Brattle Square, where “Before 2017, Professor Nowak had authorized PED to give Epstein and his assistants proximity cards, which permitted them to gain access to the building whenever they wished. PED also gave Epstein and his assistants the keypad code to enter the PED offices at any time. Epstein and his assistants also had a key to Office 610, which PED referred to as ‘Jeffrey’s Office’.” When security was tightened, Epstein was given unassigned access cards to the premises. As the report puts it, “Epstein’s permanent possession of a visitor keycard; his knowledge of the passcode to the PED offices; and his possession of a key to an individual Harvard office all gave him unlimited access to PED. It appears that this circumvented rules designed to limit access to Harvard space to individuals with legitimate reasons to be there. In effect, Professor Nowak…permitted Epstein to use PED’s offices as his own whenever he came to campus. Moreover, they did so without due regard for Harvard’s security rules. As later recommended in this report, FAS should consider whether these actions were violations of Harvard rules and, if so, determine appropriate next steps.”

The PED also posted material about Epstein on its website, at his request—“part of a larger effort to rehabilitate his image”—until “In October 2014, sexual assault survivor advocates contacted both PED and President Faust’s office about Epstein’s page on the PED site. In response, PED took the page down.”

Those matters are apparently part of FAS’s investigation now.  

Lopez made the following recommendations:

  • At your direction Harvard already has created a reporting relationship between school-based fundraising officers and the Vice President for Alumni Affairs and Development, and we support this action.  With respect to decisions made by Harvard not to accept a particular gift, or gifts from a particular donor, these decisions need a more formal communication mechanism and better definition about the nature of the relationship with the individual once the decision is made.  Development officers throughout Harvard, as well as any faculty who have received support from a person who has become ineligible to give, need to be informed more formally of such decisions and whether such decisions are irrevocable or time-limited.
  • Harvard’s Gift Policy Committee should expand the universe of gifts and donors to be evaluated and communicate the criteria for review to faculty members, department chairs, deans, and development staff.  We understand that the GPC is preparing a gift policy guide for the Harvard community, and we support that effort to more plainly communicate the values and standards that underpin our gift processes to all involved in fundraising at Harvard and to our alumni and donor communities.
  • In terms of Visiting Fellows, we recommend that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences consider developing further controls to evaluate Visiting Fellows and ensure that any conflicts or potential conflicts of interest are disclosed and that candidates who pose a conflict or lack basic qualifications are independently reviewed as part of the approval process.
  • The Faculty Affairs Office in FAS and/or the FAS Associate Dean for Human Resources should determine whether the actions disclosed in this report concerning the PED constitute violations of Harvard’s policies, and if so, what further action should be taken.

A further report from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences dean is indicated. The full report from Lopez’s investigation is available here. The full texts of the Bacow and Lopez letters appear below.

President Bacow’s Letter

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,
 
I write today to update you on the full review of Jeffrey Epstein’s connections to the University, which I requested in September following a partial review of his donations to Harvard. This morning, Diane Lopez, Vice President and General Counsel, transmitted to me the cover letter appended below, along with the final report. The report confirms that the University received a total of $9.1 million in gifts from Epstein between 1998 and 2008 to support a variety of research and faculty activities, and that no gifts were received from Epstein following his conviction in 2008.
 
Several recommendations are made in the report, and I have instructed members of my senior leadership team to begin implementing them as soon as possible. Provost Alan Garber, in his capacity as chair of the Gift Policy Committee, is leading an effort to clarify and expand procedures related to the review of potential gifts, and Vice President Brian Lee will work to ensure that those procedures are reflected in the general practices of alumni affairs and development staff working throughout the University. I have also asked Dean Claudine Gay to respond to those aspects of the report that relate directly to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
 
A separate review found that $200,937 of gifts received from Epstein remained unspent. In line with the commitment I shared in September, those funds have been divided equally between My Life My Choice, based in Boston, and Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS), based in New York. These organizations support victims of human trafficking and sexual assault, and Harvard is proud to support their important and valuable work.
 
As I noted last semester, we will always do our best to improve. I am deeply grateful to Diane and her colleagues for undertaking this critically important work on behalf of our community. 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.
 
Sincerely,
Larry

Vice President and General Counsel Diane Lopez’s Letter

Dear President Bacow:

On September 12, 2019, you issued a message to the Harvard community concerning Jeffrey E. Epstein’s relationship with Harvard.  Your message rightly condemned Epstein’s crimes as “utterly abhorrent . . . repulsive and reprehensible,” and expressed “profound[] regret” about “Harvard’s past association with him.”  You noted that a preliminary review of Epstein’s donations had indicated that Harvard did not accept gifts from him after his 2008 conviction for crimes related to solicitation of minors for prostitution, and you asked for a further review of Epstein’s donations to Harvard, as well as a review of the circumstances surrounding Epstein’s appointment as a Visiting Fellow in Harvard’s Department of Psychology in 2005.

In order to conduct this review, I engaged outside counsel to work with me and one of my attorneys in the Office of the General Counsel.1  We have completed our review and enclose our report which sets forth information regarding the process we followed; our findings; and recommendations based on those findings.  Each is also discussed briefly below.  I note that our findings confirm that Harvard University did not accept donations from Epstein after his conviction in 2008.  We further find that this was based on deliberate decisions not to accept gifts from him made by senior Harvard officials who recognized the aberrant and unacceptable nature of his conduct.

In conducting our review, we interviewed more than 40 individuals from within and outside the University and collected and conducted targeted searches and reviews of more than 250,000 pages of documents, including email records obtained in accordance with Harvard policy.  Following up on your message, I sent a communication to the community providing a mechanism for individuals to share information on either an identified or an anonymized basis.  We received reports through those systems and followed up on the issues raised in those communications as well.  I am grateful to all those who came forward to provide information for our review.

Our review addresses three principal areas of focus: (1) Epstein’s donations to Harvard; (2) his appointment as a Visiting Fellow; and (3) his relationship with the Program on Evolutionary Dynamics, a program within Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences that Epstein initially funded.

Based on our review, we determined that prior to his 2008 conviction, Epstein donated $9,179,000 to support Harvard faculty and programs, with the vast majority of those donations occurring before his 2006 arrest.  These gifts were made between 1998 and 2007, and typically ranged between $10,000 to $200,000.  Epstein did, however, make one substantially larger gift of $6.5 million in 2003 to help create Harvard’s Program in Evolutionary Dynamics.  During the years before Epstein’s criminal activity became known to the public, various Harvard faculty and administrators pursued donations from him, knowing he was a wealthy individual interested in science and philanthropy.  Some members of the Harvard community continued their relationships with Epstein even after his conviction, but these relationships in and of themselves did not violate Harvard policies.

In 2008, shortly after taking office as President, Drew G. Faust was asked to consider a new gift from Epstein.  Though she had not heard of him at the time, after she was briefed on the nature of the allegations against him, she determined that Harvard should no longer accept gifts from him.  In 2013, several faculty members requested that Harvard reconsider accepting donations from Epstein.  That request was put before then-Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Michael D. Smith, who, after being briefed about Epstein, reached the same conclusion as President Faust, and denied the request to entertain the possibility of gifts from Epstein.  In his interview, Dean Smith explained that he concluded at the time that it would be inconsistent with Harvard’s commitment to address sexual assault and harassment at our institution to accept gifts from Epstein. 

Following his conviction in 2008, Epstein did continue efforts to interest other donors in supporting research at Harvard.  We understand, for example, that an FAS faculty member and a Harvard Medical School faculty member both received funding from donors who were introduced to these scientists by Epstein.  With respect to one of these donors, we established that Epstein or his associates helped to facilitate the gift transactions, as more fully described in the report.  But that donor, an alumnus with a history of giving generously to Harvard, as well as the other donor, agreed to cooperate with our review, told us their donations were based on their independent decisions to support the research and that the gifts were made with their own money.  Our review did not reveal information that would establish anything to the contrary.  Nevertheless, development officers at Harvard knew about Epstein’s continued involvement in encouraging others to donate to Harvard and did not take steps to discourage these efforts despite knowing that gifts would not be welcome from him.  No one violated any Harvard policy in this regard, as there is none; a matter we recommend be rectified.

As to Epstein’s appointment as a Visiting Fellow, the initial appointment occurred in 2005, before Epstein’s arrest.  The Visiting Fellow designation is now, as it was in 2005, granted to an independent researcher registered with Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences as a graduate research student.  In 2005, the Chair of the Psychology Department, Dr. Stephen Kosslyn, recommended Epstein’s admission.  Between 1998 and 2002, Epstein had donated $200,000 to support Dr. Kosslyn’s work.  The Visiting Fellow application process does not inquire about possible conflicts of interest and the fact of Epstein’s donations was not disclosed in the paperwork submitted by Dr. Kosslyn in support of Epstein’s application.  After reviewing these records, we conclude, and no one argues to the contrary, that Epstein lacked the academic qualifications Visiting Fellows typically possess and his application proposed a course of study Epstein was unqualified to pursue.  Epstein’s application was, nevertheless, approved, having been supported by a department chair.  Epstein paid the tuition and fees to be a Visiting Fellow and showed up for registration, but we understand he did very little to pursue his course of study.  Nevertheless, he applied to be re-admitted for a second year, the 2006-2007 academic year, and was again admitted, but he withdrew from that appointment following his arrest and before the new academic year began.

The third area of focus from our investigation was Epstein’s relationship with the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics.  As noted above, Epstein initially funded the program in 2003 with a gift of $6.5 million.  Epstein maintained a relationship with the director of the PED, Professor Martin Nowak, over the next 15 years, including after Epstein’s release from prison. While we have not been able to determine the precise number of campus visits, we understand that Epstein visited the offices of PED in Harvard Square more than 40 times between 2010 and 2018.  We did not find evidence that Epstein engaged with undergraduate students during these visits (or during his time as a Visiting Fellow).  Instead, Epstein used these visits principally as opportunities to speak with prominent faculty from the Cambridge area, many of them Harvard faculty.  While inviting Epstein to campus did not violate any Harvard policies, aspects of his relationship to the PED, such as his access to the program’s offices, treatment on the PED’s website and interactions concerning one grant application, do implicate Harvard policies and our findings and recommendations address these issues.  

Based on our review, we recommend that Harvard consider improving aspects of its operations in three respects and consider the appropriateness of certain personnel actions.  These recommendations are explained in more detail in the report.  I summarize them below: 

  • At your direction Harvard already has created a reporting relationship between school-based fundraising officers and the Vice President for Alumni Affairs and Development, and we support this action.  With respect to decisions made by Harvard not to accept a particular gift, or gifts from a particular donor, these decisions need a more formal communication mechanism and better definition about the nature of the relationship with the individual once the decision is made.  Development officers throughout Harvard, as well as any faculty who have received support from a person who has become ineligible to give, need to be informed more formally of such decisions and whether such decisions are irrevocable or time-limited.  
  • Harvard’s Gift Policy Committee should expand the universe of gifts and donors to be evaluated and communicate the criteria for review to faculty members, department chairs, deans, and development staff.  We understand that the GPC is preparing a gift policy guide for the Harvard community, and we support that effort to more plainly communicate the values and standards that underpin our gift processes to all involved in fundraising at Harvard and to our alumni and donor communities.  
  • In terms of Visiting Fellows, we recommend that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences consider developing further controls to evaluate Visiting Fellows and ensure that any conflicts or potential conflicts of interest are disclosed and that candidates who pose a conflict or lack basic qualifications are independently reviewed as part of the approval process. 

  • The Faculty Affairs Office in FAS and/or the FAS Associate Dean for Human Resources should determine whether the actions disclosed in this report concerning the PED constitute violations of Harvard’s policies, and if so, what further action should be taken. The attached report provides additional information regarding these findings and recommendations.

I look forward to answering any questions you may have.

Sincerely,

Diane E. Lopez
Vice President and General Counsel


1 It was not necessary for the Harvard Corporation to engage independent counsel for this review because none of the officers or other relevant senior officials currently in office made any decisions regarding accepting gifts from Epstein, given the 2008 decision not to accept gifts from him.  Since 2008, the incumbents holding the positions of President, Provost and Vice President for Alumni Affairs and Development, to name a few, are new.  I was a line attorney in the Office of the General Counsel from 1994 to 2011 (University Attorney) with no particular responsibility for advising about gift acceptance. 

FAS Dean Claudine Gay’s Letter

Dear members of the FAS community,

The disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted sex offender who solicited minors for prostitution, used charitable donations to establish relationships with a number of leading universities, including Harvard. In September, the University launched a review of Epstein’s donations and ties to Harvard, which was conducted by the Office of the General Counsel with the assistance of the law firm Foley Hoag. This afternoon President Bacow announced the results of that review to the Harvard community.

The report finds that Harvard made the deliberate decision not to accept gifts from Epstein after his conviction, a decision made by our former President, Drew G. Faust, that was later reaffirmed by my predecessor, Michael D. Smith. Nevertheless, the report recommends steps to strengthen the procedures for the review of gifts and the documentation of fundraising decisions, as well as for the appointment of Visiting Fellows. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences fully supports these recommendations.

The Epstein report also recommends further review of activities that occurred in the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics (PED), where Epstein was both a donor and, apparently, a frequent visitor, including after his conviction. The actions taken by the head of PED, Professor Martin Nowak, as described in the report warrant review to determine whether FAS policies and standards of professional conduct were violated and if additional steps must be taken. To that end, Professor Nowak has been placed on paid administrative leave. We do not take this step lightly, but the seriousness of the matter leads us to believe it is not appropriate for Professor Nowak to continue in his role, other than what he will be asked to do to complete the semester, while the FAS determines its response to the findings of the report. I have been in touch with Professor Nowak concerning these matters and assured him that he will be afforded appropriate participation in the FAS process.

One of our highest priorities in this moment is to support the other scholars of PED whose work may be disrupted by this development. Outreach to PED will begin today, and I am grateful to the Division of Science for coordinating resources, advice, and mentoring, in partnership with the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, the Math Department, and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, among others.

In these times of stress and dislocation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are reminded on a near daily basis what a privilege it is to be a member of this academic community and to contribute to a mission that advances truth and shapes the development of some of the world’s most promising young minds. 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. Our vigilance in living these commitments is strengthened by this review.

Sincerely,

Claudine

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