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Donors and billionaires Glenn R. Dubin and Leslie H. Wexner departed from a Harvard Kennedy School board last month, foregrounding students’ concerns regarding Harvard’s ties to donors who cultivated relationships with deceased sex offender Jeffrey E. Epstein.
As early as Feb. 11, Dubin and Wexner’s names no longer appeared on a Harvard website listing members of the advisory council of the Center for Public Leadership, a scholarship and co-curricular program affiliated with the Kennedy School. Wexner co-chaired the council with his wife, Abigail S. Wexner, whose name has also been removed from the website.
The Kennedy School also removed Dubin’s name from the Dean’s Executive Board, which boasts some of “the most committed financial supporters” to the school who serve as “trusted advisors” to Kennedy School Dean Douglas W. Elmendorf, according to the board’s website.
Dubin and Wexner have each endowed fellowships in their names at the Center, which provides funding for fellows to study at the Kennedy School and cultivates “principled, effective public leaders,” according to its website.
In 2010, Dubin donated $5 million to establish the Dubin Graduate Fellowship for Emerging Leaders at the Center. Wexner, who helped found the Center in 2000 with his wife, had donated more than $42 million to Harvard as of 2012. He also boasts a building with his name on the Kennedy School’s campus.
In addition to their ties to Harvard, Dubin and Wexner also had relationships with Epstein, the former Harvard donor and financier who earned national ignominy for allegedly running a sex trafficking ring that solicitied girls as young as 14. Last summer, Dubin became implicated in the Epstein scandal after a woman said Epstein forced her to have sex with Dubin, according to recently unsealed court documents.
For decades, Epstein served as Wexner’s personal financial advisor. Wexner has since asserted that he severed ties with Epstein once allegations surfaced in 2007 that Epstein solicited sex from a minor — allegations for which Epstein pleaded guilty in a Florida court. Aside from his ties to Epstein, Wexner, who served as CEO of Victoria Secret’s parent company L Brands until Feb. 20, allegedly created a workplace culture that enabled sexual misconduct to persist for decades, according to news reports.
Center for Public Leadership spokesperson Lael S. Harris confirmed in an email that Wexner and Dubin no longer serve on the Center’s leadership council. She also indicated that the scratching of the billionaires’ names from the website is nothing out of the ordinary.
“Members of the advisory councils within the School often rotate out after a period of time,” Harris wrote. “The membership of those councils is posted publicly on the websites of the relevant research centers.”
Spokespeople for Dubin and Wexner did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
Earlier this month, Harvard students called on the University to address its relationship to those donors in an article published by Business Insider. In the article, a student described the discomfort students who have their funding tied to those individuals harbor.
Kennedy School student Katherine C. Williams told The Crimson that because Harvard did not publicly acknowledge Wexner and Dubin’s departures from the council, she was left wondering if the change in leadership reflected Harvard’s severing of ties to those donors or merely “a surface level change.”
“Does that mean that they are no longer funders?” she asked. “Does it mean that the school [has] meaningfully altered its relationship with these individuals?”
Williams said she believes the Kennedy School’s relationships with Wexner and Dubin run counter to its mission.
“HKS is all about public service. It's about leadership, ethics, integrity,” she said. “It just struck me as concerning or like a point of tension that we espouse all of those values as a school and we seek to train and educate future public leaders but we have these ties.”
Another Kennedy School student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation from the Kennedy School, said Harvard must realize the legitimacy it bestows individuals who donate to the University. The student called on Harvard to “realize its own worth” and put in place moral standards for donors.
Williams also said she would feel reassured if Harvard administrators acknowledged questions regarding donors’ conduct.
In an email sent to fellowship applicants on Feb. 7 and obtained by The Crimson, the Center relayed an expectation to applicants that they research the donors funding their prospective programs.
“Before submitting your application/s, we expect that you have thoroughly reviewed all pertinent information related to the fellowship/s you have applied to,” Center for Public Leadership staff member Brandon Ward wrote in the email. That information, he went on to specify, includes "the history and background of the donor.”
Last month, discomfort about Harvard’s ties to donors who cultivated relationships with Epstein came out into the open at the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics.
At a forum honoring #MeToo movement founder Tarana Burke, Williams — who attended the discussion — asked Burke how Harvard should grapple with those ties during the questions and answers portion of the evening.
Burke, sitting alongside the event’s moderator, Center for Public Leadership Director Wendy R. Sherman, told the audience that Harvard should acknowledge donors’ ties to Epstein, according to a video stream of the event.
“Courage in a lot of places, especially institutions, looks like transparency,” she said. “Harvard is an example for other institutions: this is how you do this. You look it dead in the eye and say ‘we made a mistake’ or ‘we took too long’ or whatever the thing is but ‘here’s what we’re going to do going forward.’ And I hope that happens.”
University President Lawrence S. Bacow apologized for Harvard’s past dealings with Epstein in a September email to University affiliates. Bacow also announced the launch of a probe into Epstein’s donations to Harvard.
In addition to the recent removal of Dubin and the Wexners from the Center’s leadership council, the updated website also omits reference to the Wexner couple as the founders of the Center. It now includes a sentence explaining that council members often “rotate out after a period of time,” as Harris noted in her email.
Leon D. Black, a graduate of Harvard Business School whose professional dealings with Epstein have also come under scrutiny, remains on the Center’s leadership council, per its website.
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