Epstein had office at Harvard University and visited after sex offender conviction, new report finds

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Epstein's close association with influential scholars burnished his reputation, giving him credibility even after 2008 guilty plea

World | The Independent

Jeffrey Epstein had an office at Harvard University and visited that department dozens of times after he was released from prison, according to a review of the school’s ties to the financier and convicted sex offender.

Epstein had a key card and passcode to the building housing Harvard’s Programme for Evolutionary Dynamics, where an office was set aside for his use, according to the review released Friday. Epstein used the space to meet with professors from Harvard and other institutions and visited the building more than 40 times between 2010 and 2018, typically accompanied by young women serving as his assistants. He furnished it with a rug and photographs, and it was known as “Jeffrey’s office”, according to the report.

The programme’s website included material promoting Epstein as a science philanthropist in 2014, six years after his 2008 guilty plea for soliciting prostitution of a minor. It was only removed after a group representing sexual assault victims complained.

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Epstein’s close association with influential scholars burnished his reputation, giving him a veneer of credibility even after his guilty plea. That plea generated controversy because it initially allowed Epstein to avoid federal charges that he molested girls.

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Last July, Epstein was arrested on new federal charges of sexually abusing dozens of girls in the early 2000s, prompting renewed scrutiny of his ties with elite universities, including Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and some of their superstar scholars.

Epstein died in jail in August, after hanging himself, according to medical examiners. But even after his death, the new case spurred a national debate about the pressures researchers and administrators face to raise money, and the willingness of some schools to accept money from questionable benefactors.

In September, Harvard president Lawrence Bacow expressed regret about the university’s association with Epstein. An initial review found nearly $9m (£7.1m) in gifts from Epstein, all before his 2008 conviction, and Bacow announced plans for a more extensive inquiry.

The review, led by Harvard University vice president and general counsel Diane E Lopez, encompassed hundreds of thousands of documents and interviews with dozens of officials.

Harvard’s former president, Drew Faust, who took office in 2007, determined that the university would not accept gifts from Epstein, and there is no evidence that it did after his 2008 conviction, according to the report. The gifts totalled nearly $9.2m (£7.3m).

The largest gift from Epstein was a $6.5m (£5.1m) donation in 2003 that established Harvard’s Programme for Evolutionary Dynamics led by Martin Nowak, a professor of biology and mathematics. Professor Nowak was placed on paid administrative leave while the Faculty of Arts and Sciences determines its response to the findings, Harvard dean Claudine Gay announced on Friday afternoon.

“We do not take this step lightly,” Ms Gay wrote to the campus, “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.”

The review found no evidence that Epstein had interactions with students at his meetings, though he attended an undergraduate math class taught by Professor​ Nowak. Professor​ Nowak did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Bacow previously announced changes to Harvard’s decentralised fundraising practices, requiring development officials in individual schools to report to a top administrator. Friday’s report recommended additional changes, including more clarity on procedures for reviewing potentially controversial gifts and better communication of decisions not to accept gifts from certain donors.

“The report issued today describes principled decision-making but also reveals institutional and individual shortcomings that must be addressed,” he said in a statement. “Not only for the sake of the university but also in recognition of the courageous individuals who sought to bring Epstein to justice.”

Epstein’s connections to the school were long-running. Harvard officials sought out Epstein as a potential donor as early as 1992, according to the report, and in 2005 he was accepted as a visiting fellow in the faculty of arts and sciences, a position often held by researchers with doctorates or similar qualifications. Epstein did not have an undergraduate degree.

His application was supported by Stephen Kosslyn, who was chair of Harvard’s psychology department at the time, and who had benefited from Epstein gifts to Harvard supporting his research.

“An administrator recalled Epstein’s appearing at registration accompanied by several women who appeared to be in their 20s,” according to the report. “The administrator also recalled that Epstein did not participate in any of the activities that Harvard organised for Visiting Fellows. Professor Kosslyn informed us that Epstein did little of the work his plan outlined.” Epstein also was accepted as a visiting fellow the next year, 2006.

Kosslyn did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Harvard’s report recommended revisions to the procedure for evaluating visiting fellows.

In 2006, after criminal charges were brought, university officials spoke with Epstein, and he withdrew as a fellow. Between 2010 and 2015, the report found, donors Epstein had introduced to Nowak and Harvard Medical School professor George Church gave $7.5m (£5.9m) to support Nowak’s work and $2m (£1.5m) to Church’s.

The donors denied that Epstein directed those gifts, according to the report, but development officials were aware that he had played some role.

Church, a renowned geneticist, has previously apologised for accepting about $500,000 (£399,900) from Epstein between 2005 and 2007.

The Washington Post

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