Jeffrey Epstein, Harvard, and Martin Nowak

Published: May 11, 2020   |   Read time:

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There has been a lot of news about the various affiliations Jeffrey Epstein has had with businessmen, multiple US presidents, and academic institutions. The most unsavoury reports of academic relationships have come from Harvard and MIT, particularly involving Martin Nowak and the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics.

Harvard President Bacow released a statement in September of 2019 after information about these relationships with Epstein came to light, which prompted an investigation from the Office of the General Counsel On Friday May 01, 2020, the Office published their report. You can also find the PDF, which I’m alternatively hosting, here, for download.

This report higlights the particular involvement of Martin Nowak, whose work I have read for a number of years, now. Because of my familiarity with his work, and interest in the ideas presented in his publications, I felt obligated to see how this prolific researcher conducted his business. I would like to recount a number of disturbing highlights from the report that I found particularly noteworthy. Below are direct quotes from the report, with my own emphases.

Epstein had made numerous donations to Harvard faculty members over the years, and was particularly involved with one particular professor, Martin Nowak.

Between 1998 and 2007, before his 2008 conviction on charges relating to soliciting minors for prostitution, Epstein made $9,179,000 in gifts to Harvard to support Harvard faculty members and programs… The largest of his gifts, a $6.5 million gift made in 2003, established Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics (“PED”), led by Professor Martin Nowak. Epstein’s $6.5 million gift to PED enabled Harvard and Professor Nowak to create and pay for a separate research facility for PED in a Harvard Square office building leased from a private owner.

These donations over the years helped Epstein establish himself as something of a philanthropist, spending his money allegedly earned in the private sector to cycle back into public goods. These large donations granted him time with a number of Harvard professors, and and brought about other benefits that deepened his relationship with Harvard.

In 2005, Harvard admitted Epstein as a Visiting Fellow in Harvard’s Psychology Department for the 2005-2006 academic year… Professor Stephen Kosslyn, the Chair of the Psychology Department, recommended Epstein’s admission as a Visiting Fellow. Professor Kosslyn had known Epstein for many years, and between 1998 and 2002, Epstein had given Harvard $200,000 to support Kosslyn’s work. Epstein lacked the academic qualifications Visiting Fellows typically possess, and his application proposed a course of study Epstein was unqualified to pursue. Epstein paid the required tuition and fees ($10, 072) and came to registration, but did little to pursue his proposed course of study as a Visiting Fellow.

In February 2006, Epstein applied to be re-admitted as a Visiting Fellow for a second year, the 2006-2007 academic year, and Harvard again admitted him. We understand that in September 2006, as a result of Epstein’s arrest, Epstein was asked to withdraw as a Visiting Fellow for the 2006-2007 academic year, and he did so.

Epstein was granted the position of a Visiting Fellow, proposed essentially meaningless work, and never actually did any of it. This gave him a title, but without interacting with students, classes, or doing anything expected of a Visiting Fellow, essentially nothing else. But even at this point, he had a strong affiliation with the school and the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, while a case was being made against him for soliciting minors for prostitution.

While it is unlikely that the behaviour of such a donor would be low-key enough to not attract any negative attention from the school or media, it is the behaviour of certain individuals after his conviction that is particularly egregious.

Events during and after Epstein’s court case

Epstein was charged for soliciting minors on July 31, 2006, and plead guilty on June 30, 20081. Harvard was aware of the court case against Epstein while it was ongoing.

Between July 2006, when The Harvard Crimson [a school newspaper] publicized information about Epstein’s arrest, and July 1, 2007, when Drew Faust became Harvard’s President, Harvard accepted four additional gifts from Epstein totaling $736,000: two to support work at the Medical School totaling $586,000 and two to support FAS faculty, totaling $150,000.

Harvard President, Drew Faust, after being made aware of the situation, decided to not receive gifts from Epstein during this time.

After taking office, President Faust decided that Harvard should no longer accept gifts from Epstein. We have been unable to determine precisely when she made that decision, but records indicate it was no later than November 2008.

This decision appears to have been followed by the university. According to the Office of the General Counsel’s investigation:

Harvard accepted no gifts from Epstein after his 2008 conviction.

However, this did not mean that contact ceased between Epstein and faculty members, or that faculty did not take advantage with Epstein to procure other sources of funding.

In November 2008, for example, Professor Kosslyn … noted in an email that he had discussed “Martin [Nowak]’s situation” with Benedict Gross, the chair of Harvard’s Math Department. “If [Faust] weren’t opposed to taking [Epstein]’s money, there wouldn’t be a problem ..[.] but she is.”

Nowak acknowledged that he understood that President Faust had misgivings about accepting Epstein’s funds, but said he believed that the situation was “unclear,” and President Faust’s decision might be subject to reconsideration.

Nowak and Kosslyn who, at this point, had received millions in donations from Epstein and known him for a decade, were aware of how this situation would impact their funding and work. Nowak and others, even after Epstein’s conviction, made efforts to revist Faust’s decision to not accept gifts from Epstein.

An email in January 2010, for example, describes Nowak as “trying to figure out a way to have Jeffrey Epstein give PED funds.”

In November 2013, Rogers (Harvard’s Vice President for AA&D) requested to meet with Math Department chair Benedict Gross about Epstein, whom she described to Gross in an email as “a former donor with some reputational issues [who] has approached a couple of departments (individual faculty members) to discuss support.”

[Benedict] Gross, George Vasmer Leverett Professor of Mathematics, approached the development office about the possibility of soliciting Jeffrey Epstein for additional support for the work of Professor Martin Nowak. “Epstein has provided substantial support for Nowak’s work in the past … and Professor Gross feels strongly that, given the current federal funding climate, it would be ideal if we could ask Epstein for additional support.” Epstein, who keeps in touch with both Gross and Nowak, has offered that he would be willing to provide additional funds both for the Math department and for Professor Nowak’s work.

This behaviour seems indefensible, to me. To continue to affiliate with a convicted child sex offender, to be on good enough terms to receive gifts, and to attempt to go against the university’s decision for accepting gifts by grossly understating the degree of Epstein’s “reputational issues” is frightening.

After President Faust concluded that Harvard should not accept gifts from Epstein, Epstein continued to play a role in obtaining gifts for two Harvard faculty members — FAS Professor Nowak and Harvard Medical School Professor George Church.

Professor Nowak acknowledged raising with Epstein the question of his need for unrestricted support for rent… Professor Nowak acknowledged, however, that Epstein played a role in helping Nowak obtain the following unrestricted gifts, which permitted Nowak to continue to maintain office space at One Brattle Square.

Gifts that Epstein assisted Nowak in acquiring after his 2008 conviction -80%

This pattern of having Epstein assist Nowak in securing funds persisted for years. A particularly noteworthy incident occurred in 2014 involving the Templeton Foundation, where Nowak colluded with Epstein and a then-Templeton executive to lie to the Foundation to acquire a grant.

Nowak and PED applied for a new Templeton grant in 2014, seeking $3 million. The foundation informed Nowak and PED that, because the new grant related to work performed on a previous grant, Templeton would consider granting half of the money. Templeton further informed Nowak and PED that Templeton’s charter required PED to demonstrate that it had funds available to provide the other 50% of the money from another source.

But rather than seek the letter the foundation required from either Harvard or Black, Nowak — for reasons he told us he was unable to explain — sought a letter from Epstein, whose original $6.5 million gift by then had long been spent.

Epstein’s accountant sent Professor Nowak and the then-Templeton executive a letter from one of Epstein’s foundations … This statement was false in two respects: first, [Epstein’s foundation] had never provided support to Nowak’s program and, second, the funds that Epstein had provided had long been spent.

All of the above behaviour by Nowak and others to remain in close contact with Epstein after his jail sentence, accept his donations, grant him physical unrestricted access to their research space, and allow Epstein to paint himself as a scientific philanthropist is sickening. In response to this investigation, Harvard has placed Nowak on paid administrative leave, with further consequences likely coming from the Faculty Affairs Office from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. There is no mention of consequences for others mentioned in the report, such as Kosslyn, Church, or Gross.

I highly recommend that others read this report, to see the extent of dubious behaviour over the decades. This nefarious behaviour by an acclaimed professor is striking, and worth remembering. I will be doing when if I ever need to read Nowak’s papers, again.

Footnotes

  1. For legal case details, see Palm Beach County, Florida’s CaseView site. Case #: 50-2008-CF-009381-AXXX-MB.