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Harvard reviewing Epstein gifts and pledging to donate to funds benefiting victims

Harvard University is investigating gifts it took from Jeffrey Epstein, the financier and sex offender. (Charles Krupa/AP)
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Harvard University accepted about $9 million in donations from financier Jeffrey Epstein between 1998 and 2007, according to results of an investigation released Thursday evening by the school’s president.

In a letter to the campus, Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow said the school rejected a donation offered by Epstein after 2008, the year when Epstein was convicted on sex charges. Bacow wrote that the review has not found gifts accepted after Epstein’s conviction.

Harvard University has been investigating the extent and nature of gifts from Epstein and will redirect some of the money that has not been spent to organizations helping victims of trafficking and sexual assault, Bacow said.

“The issue of the gifts given to institutions by donors at Jeffrey Epstein’s suggestion, is also one that has emerged in recent days,” he wrote, “and we are looking into this as part of our ongoing review.”

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On Thursday, MIT President L. Rafael Reif revealed that senior members of that school’s administration were aware of gifts from Epstein after the financier’s conviction in 2008 and sought to ensure those gifts were anonymous.

Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008 to two felony offenses, including procuring a person under 18 for prostitution. Epstein was arrested in July on new federal charges of sexually abusing dozens of girls in the early 2000s. In August, he was found dead while in federal custody.

The revelations prompted renewed scrutiny of Epstein’s philanthropy and the sometimes complicated relationships between donors and institutions

Epstein’s donations to universities reveal a painful truth about philanthropy

Harvard’s decentralization makes a review more complicated than it would be at some other institutions, Bacow wrote.

Most of the gifts from Epstein were designated for current use on research and education and were spent years ago, Bacow wrote.

The largest gift, $6.5 million, was given in 2003 for the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics and spent by 2007, according to the university.

Senior officials at MIT — including the university’s president — knew about Epstein donations

The ongoing review identified a current-use fund and a gift to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences with an unspent balance of $186,000, Bacow noted, and university officials have decided to donate that amount to funds benefiting victims of trafficking and sexual assault.

“This is an unusual step for the University,” Bacow wrote, “but we have decided it is the proper course of action under the circumstances of Epstein’s egregiously repugnant crimes.”

Bacow also noted that Stephen Kosslyn, a former faculty member who had benefited from donations from Epstein, designated Epstein as a visiting fellow in the Department of Psychology in 2005, and that they were working to learn more about that appointment.

Kosslyn did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Epstein’s behavior, not just at Harvard, but elsewhere, raises significant questions about how institutions like ours review and vet donors,” Bacow wrote. He said he would convene a group at Harvard to consider how to prevent such situations, and expressed hope that peer institutions could collaborate on solutions.

“Jeffrey Epstein’s crimes were repulsive and reprehensible. I profoundly regret Harvard’s past association with him. Conduct such as his has no place in our society. We act today in recognition of that fact …

“Harvard is not perfect, but you have my commitment as president that we will always strive to be better.”