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FAS Places Prof. Nowak On Leave After Report Finds Epstein Used His Program to Rehabilitate Image

University Hall houses the office of several Faculty of Arts and Sciences administrators, including FAS Dean Claudine Gay.
University Hall houses the office of several Faculty of Arts and Sciences administrators, including FAS Dean Claudine Gay. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By James S. Bikales, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences placed Mathematics and Biology professor Martin A. Nowak on paid administrative leave Friday after a review into Harvard’s ties to Jeffrey E. Epstein found extensive and previously unreported contact between the professor and the convicted sex offender.

A University report found Epstein attempted to use Harvard and the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, which Nowak directs, as a tool to rehabilitate his image following his 2008 conviction for solicitation of minors for prostitution. Epstein likely made more than 40 visits to PED’s offices at One Brattle Square between 2010 and 2018, according to the report, which also states that Nowak approved the posting of flattering and false descriptions of Epstein’s philanthropy and support of Harvard on the PED website.

University President Lawrence S. Bacow announced in a message Friday that the Office of General Counsel and outside law firm Foley Hoag have completed their review into Epstein’s connections to Harvard.

The review found that no donations were made by Epstein following a decision by former University President Drew G. Faust to refuse donations from Epstein after his conviction.

FAS Dean Claudine Gay wrote in an email to affiliates Friday afternoon that the FAS “fully supports” the recommendations of the General Counsel’s report. The report raises several questions about violations of FAS policies, which Gay wrote in her email will be investigated.

“The actions taken by the head of PED, Professor Martin Nowak, as described in the report warrant review to determine whether FAS policies and standards of professional conduct were violated and if additional steps must be taken,” Gay wrote. “To that end, Professor Nowak has been placed on paid administrative leave.”

“We do not take this step lightly, 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,” Gay added.

Nowak did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.

The Crimson reported in 2006 that Epstein donated $6.5 million to the program in 2003, which Friday’s report concluded was by far the largest single donation Epstein made to Harvard. The report found no additional donations to PED after Epstein’s conviction and Faust’s subsequent decision to bar donations from him.

In 2005, professor Stephen M. Kosslyn, now emeritus, named Epstein a visiting fellow in the Psychology department, Bacow wrote in an email announcing the review last September. According to Friday’s report, Epstein — who did not hold an undergraduate degree — was not qualified for the research he applied to conduct, nor did he conduct much of that research during his two-year appointment.

An administrator in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences had recommended that GSAS not admit Epstein as a Visiting Fellow, but his application was approved anyway, per the report.

Kosslyn did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

PED also provided Epstein with an office and keycode access to its building, which he maintained even after he vacated his visiting fellowship. The report found no evidence that Epstein interacted with Harvard students during his approximately 40 visits, though he did attend one of Nowak’s undergraduate math classes.

Even though Epstein did not donate to PED or Harvard after 2007, he played an “indirect but significant role” in facilitating a grant from the John Templeton Foundation to PED in 2015.

Epstein died in prison last August, facing federal charges that he trafficked and sexually assaulted underage girls. The Miami Herald reported in November 2018 that Epstein operated a sex ring out of his Palm Beach, Fla. home and identified around 80 women who say Epstein molested or sexually abused them before 2006.

—Staff writer James S. Bikales can be reached at james.bikales@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamepdx.

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