A Harvard professor has been put on paid leave amid revelations he took extraordinary steps to help Jeffrey Epstein “rehabilitate his image” after his 2008 sex-crimes conviction, including signing off on flattering and false descriptions of the convicted sex offender on the university’s website.
Martin Nowak, a professor of mathematics and biology, was put on administrative leave Friday following the conclusion of the university’s investigation into their ties with the late financier. The investigation found that, throughout a 15-year friendship, Nowak gave Epstein unparalleled access to the school’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics (PED) in a scheme “to boost his public image.”
The access, which included his own Harvard office and phone line, allowed Epstein to continue to maintain ties with the Ivy League school and political community despite his criminal downfall.
“Professor Nowak took no steps to conceal Epstein’s visits to PED,” the 27-page report states, noting that at least a dozen Harvard faculty members were aware of the billionaire’s frequent visits. “Epstein’s visits came to an end only after a number of researchers who worked at PED told Nowak they objected to Epstein’s visits to PED and, more generally, his relationship with the program.”
The findings are just one part of a series of efforts Epstein made over years to ingratiate himself in the science and academic communities, funding multi-million dollar projects in an attempt to burnish his reputation and pursue pet topics like cryogenics and eugenics.
In total, Harvard received $9.1 million in donations from Epstein between 1998 and 2008, used to support a variety of research and faculty activities. All the donations, the report says, were received before 2008, when Epstein was found guilty of soliciting sex from an underage girl. Epstein died by suicide in August in his Manhattan jail cell after being arrested on federal child sex-trafficking charges.
“The largest of his gifts, a $6.5 million gift made in 2003, established Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics… led by Professor Martin Nowak,” the report states. “Epstein’s $6.5 million gift[s] 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.”
After his conviction, the report states, “Epstein took steps to interest other donors in supporting research at Harvard.” That push earned Nowak $7.5 million to support his work, and Harvard Medical School Professor George Church received $2 million to continue his research, though donors have denied Epstein was behind the direction.
Epstein continued his relationship with Nowak after prison, and regularly visited Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics. Between 2010 and 2018, Epstein visited the program’s offices in Harvard Square “more than 40 times” and was “routinely accompanied on these visits by young women, described as being in their 20s, who acted as his assistants,” the report says.
During his visits, Epstein would typically meet with other Harvard professors and institutions in the Ivy League about their work. To facilitate these meetings, Epstein gave Nowak a list of names of academics “he wished to meet,” and either he or Nowak would invite them to meet with the billionaire in the PED’s offices.
The report also states Epstein was also given an office 601, or “Jeffrey’s Office,” which he decorated with his own rug and photographs, a Harvard phone line, and “keycard and passcode access” to better facilitate these meetings.
“Epstein also occasionally used PED’s offices for dinners,” the report states. “Epstein generally chose the guest list, and sometimes asked questions, but did not generally lead the discussions or choose the topics. Taken as a whole, the documents suggest that Epstein viewed the PED offices as available for his use whenever he wished to gather academics together to hear scholars talk about subjects Epstein found interesting.”
While the billionaire frequented the Harvard offices, the report notes that no evidence suggests he engaged with students—except for visiting one of Nowak’s undergraduate math classes, which he left “partway through.”
“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,” the report states, which notes that the billionaire continued to have access to the building as recently as 2017.
In 2013, Epstein sought to use the program’s website “to boost his public image, in some cases with false claims about his level of giving to Harvard,” the report states.
After Epstein was first mentioned on the website in 2003 as “one of the founders of the program,” Epstein’s publicist reached out to Nowak about a press release she was writing for its 10-year anniversary. In an email, the publicist asked if Epstein’s name could be added to the website as a member of the advisory board or a faculty affiliate because the billionaire “is trying to boost his foundation’s websites and a link on Harvard’s network would be very helpful.”
With Nowak’s approval, the program’s website added two links associated with Epstein’s foundations—one of which said that Epstein’s foundation “established the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard University with a $35 million gift to the university.”
The following year, when Nowak needed additional funds to keep PED in operation, Epstein’s publicist reached out to the professor again, asking to give her boss an even greater prominence on the program’s website.
“At the publicist’s request, PED added an entire page about Epstein to the website,” the report states, adding that the page “included his photograph, a biography, and links to Epstein’s own websites.”
The report also found that some faculty members unsuccessfully tried to get Harvard to resume taking donations from Epstein in 2013.
Epstein was heavily involved in the science and academic communities. He long boasted about his scientific philanthropy and his association with top academics like Stephen Hawking.
Last August, The New York Times reported Epstein had told several scientists about his desire to impregnate women at his New Mexico ranch and flood the human race with his DNA. The eugenics enthusiast also reportedly wanted to inseminate 20 women at a time inside this 33,000-square-foot “baby ranch.” Other confidants have said Epstein was interested in cryogenics and wanted to have his head and penis frozen for science, the Times reported.
In January, MIT completed its own review of their connections with the convicted sex offender and found that Epstein gave the university 10 donations totaling $850,000 and visited the school nine times.
As a result of the investigation, Seth Lloyd, a tenured mechanical engineering professor, was placed on leave amid revelations that he “purposely failed” to disclose that Epstein was the source of two donations that supported his research—and that he received a personal $60,000 gift from the convicted sex offender, the university said. Joi Ito, the former director of Media Lab, also resigned after his ties with Epstein became public last year.
In a message to the community, Harvard President Lawrence Bacow acknowledged the Ivy League could have done better to limit Epstein’s involvement and stated the school will adopt new donation guidelines. He added that the remaining $200,000 from Epstein will be donated to groups that support victims of sex trafficking and sexual assault.
“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.