Mogul Donor Gives Harvard More Than Money

Reclusive investor Epstein forges intellectual and financial connections with University

Jeffrey E. Epstein’s recent $30 million gift to Harvard was one in a series of donations that the elusive magnate has given anonymously to the University over the past decade.

The story behind Epstein’s deep connection with Harvard parallels his giving history, with close friendships with professors and administrators spanning the past 10 years. As an individual with no formal connection to the University, save for his donations, his Harvard ties highlight the meeting between the world of minds in the academy and the world of wallets in the business arena.

Yet Epstein appears interested in more than the large collection of planes, trains and automobiles which his fortune has allowed him to amass—and he has found Harvard the perfect staging ground for his intellectual pursuits.

Networking with the University’s greatest and most well-known minds, he has spurred research through both discussion and dollars he has contributed to various faculty—most often in the sciences.

Indeed, those new to his beneficence praise his wealth of knowledge and numerous relationships within the scientific community.


“I am amazed by the connections he has in the scientific world,” says Martin A. Nowak, who will leave Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study to run the mathematical biology and evolutionary dynamics program at Harvard endowed by Epstein’s $30 million gift. “He knows an amazing number of scientists; he knows everyone you can imagine.”

Indeed, Epstein shares a special connection with one of the most prominent figures at Harvard—University President Lawrence H. Summers.

Summers and Epstein serve together on the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations, two elite international relations organizations.

Their friendship began a number of years ago—before Summers became Harvard’s president and even before he was the Secretary of the Treasury—and those close to Epstein say he holds the University president in very high regard.

“He likes Larry Summers a lot,” Epstein’s friend and Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz says. “He speaks well of Larry, and I think he admires Larry’s economic thinking.”

And Summers is not the only person at Harvard whom Epstein admires—or who admires Epstein.

Epstein counts a number of professors—including Dershowitz, Lindsley Professor of Psychology Stephen M. Kosslyn and former Dean of the Faculty Henry A. Rosovsky—among his bevy of eminent friends that includes princes, presidents and Nobel-Prize winners.

The relationships Epstein has formed inside and outside the scientific community are particularly impressive, given that he is self-taught and does not even hold a bachelor’s degree.

Kosslyn was introduced to Epstein by the famed late Harvard professor and evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, and Dershowitz says he met Epstein through “mutual friends.”

Rosovsky, Epstein’s oldest friend in the bunch, met the mogul through similarly serendipitous circumstances. Twelve years ago, “we were introduced by a mutual friend, Mr. Leslie Wexner,” Rosovsky writes in an e-mail.