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Martin A. Nowak, the Harvard professor sanctioned in 2021 for his association with sex trafficker Jeffrey E. Epstein, had all his advising and research privileges restored in March, a faculty department chair confirmed last week.
Professor Scott V. Edwards ’86, who chairs Harvard’s Organismic and Evolutionary Biology Department, said in an interview that he and Mathematics Department chair Michael J. Hopkins had been directed by Dean of Science Christopher W. Stubbs to “welcome Dr. Nowak back to our respective departments.”
“I don’t remember the details, but essentially all sanctions have been lifted,” he said.
Edwards said he understood Nowak to be subject to “mild check-ins,” but did not know any more specifics. He said he did not know if the decision had been made by Stubbs or Claudine Gay, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and President-elect.
FAS spokesperson Rachael Dane and University spokesperson Jason A. Newton declined to comment for this article. Nowak also declined to comment.
In 2020, a University report on Harvard’s relationship with Epstein found close ties between Epstein and Nowak, a Math and Biology professor, prompting Gay to put Nowak on paid administrative leave.
In March 2021, Gay shut down the Nowak-directed Program for Evolutionary Dynamics — which had received substantial financial support from Epstein — and barred Nowak from accepting new advisees or serving as the principal investigator on any new grants or contracts.
She said at the time that she would decide whether to lift the sanctions after two years. In addition to Edwards, two other faculty members said they believed the sanctions were lifted this semester.
Edwards said Nowak had “very little communication” with others in the OEB department before the sanctions were lifted.
“We’re glad to have him back,” he added.
According to Harvard’s 2020 report on its ties to Epstein, the sex trafficker donated $6.5 million to Harvard to establish the PED, led by Nowak, in 2003. Following Epstein’s 2008 conviction for soliciting a minor for prostitution, he may have visited the PED office at One Brattle Square more than 40 times through 2018, the report noted.
The report revealed that PED maintained an office for Epstein, known as “Jeffrey’s Office,” and gave him unfettered access to the facility, in what Gay later determined to be a violation of Harvard’s policies on campus access.
“Epstein was routinely accompanied on these visits by young women, described as being in their 20s, who acted as his assistants,” the report said.
The report does not detail who was present at the meetings, describing them as simply “leading scholars from Harvard and elsewhere in science and math and, occasionally, individuals involved in public life.”
A Wall Street Journal investigation last month found that Epstein previously had an unreported meeting with Nowak and renowned linguist Noam Chomsky, along with other Harvard faculty, in March 2015 at the PED office.
The Journal later reported that former University President Lawrence H. Summers met repeatedly with Epstein and in 2014, solicited donations from Epstein on behalf of Summers’ wife, Harvard English professor Elisa F. New. Summers, who was in office when the PED was established in 2003, stepped down from the presidency in 2006, prior to Epstein’s first conviction.
In a footnote, the report briefly mentions a $110,000 donation that Gratitude America, Ltd., a charity connected to Epstein, made to New’s nonprofit, though adds that the review did not explore this further as this was not a gift to Harvard itself. Of Summers, the report only notes that he established the PED.
Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig said in an interview he felt Nowak was “scapegoated” by the report, which he said omitted the involvement of Summers, the “most important actor in the whole story.”
Lessig said Summers was crucial in developing Epstein’s ties with the University.
Nowak’s “institution had a relationship to Epstein because the administration told him he had to have one and he had to maintain it and he had to support it,” Lessig said.
“Martin is recruited to run the center, and it’s made clear from the very beginning Martin’s job in running the center is to continue to encourage the funding of its chief funder, which was Epstein,” he added.
“But for Larry Summers, it’s not even clear any of it would have happened,” Lessig said.
A spokesperson for Summers wrote that his involvement with the PED was entirely during his presidency and prior to Epstein’s arrest, and that Harvard’s gift procedures were followed.
—Staff writer Rahem D. Hamid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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