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Bacow Says Harvard Conducting 'More Substantial Review' of Gift Policies

University President Lawrence S. Bacow has a conversation with a colleague in his office in Massachusetts Hall before an interview with The Crimson.
University President Lawrence S. Bacow has a conversation with a colleague in his office in Massachusetts Hall before an interview with The Crimson. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Alexandra A. Chaidez and Aidan F. Ryan, Crimson Staff Writers

University President Lawrence S. Bacow said in an interview last week that Harvard’s review of its gift policies is a “more substantial review” than has been previously conducted in light of a simultaneous inquiry into billionaire and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s donations to the University.

Bacow said last week that the school’s gift policies are reviewed regularly, but this review differs from a typical review.

“The gift policies are routinely reviewed and undergo update all the time,” Bacow said. “This is a more searching review.”

Harvard has come under fire in recent years for its ties to controversial donors like Epstein, philanthropist and drug marketer Arthur M. Sackler, and the Saudi Arabian government.

University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 — who chairs the University Gift Policy Committee — said in an October interview that Harvard has to take a “principled approach” in deciding when to return gifts.

In the interview, Bacow stressed that the gift policy review is ongoing.

“It's a more substantial review than what we've had in the past, and it's not yet complete,” Bacow said.

In addition to these policy considerations, Bacow announced a formal review into Epstein’s multi-million dollar donations in September. Vice President and General Counsel Diane E. Lopez announced weeks later that the Office of the General Counsel would lead the investigation.

In August, Epstein died by apparent suicide in a Manhattan jail cell while facing multiple allegations of sexual abuse of underage girls. The Miami Herald reported in December 2018 that roughly 80 women have accused Epstein of molesting or sexually abusing them before 2006.

Though he never attended Harvard, Epstein has long-standing ties to the University. In addition to donating millions of dollars to the University’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, Epstein developed close relationships with administrators like former University President Lawrence H. Summers and former Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Henry Rosovsky.

In his email announcing the review, Bacow wrote that the investigation already found that Epstein made several gifts to the University between 1998 and 2007. The largest gift during that time was a $6.5 million donation to Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics. The investigation also uncovered roughly $2.4 million in additional gifts from Epstein.

In last week’s interview, Bacow did not give a date for when the Office of the General Counsel would complete the review, nor did he explicitly say whether or not the findings would be made public.

“I'm not going to put an artificial date on the completion,” he said last week. “I'm sure I'll have something to say once the investigation is complete, but until it's complete, I can't say.”

—Staff writer Alexandra A. Chaidez can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @a_achaidez.

—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.

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