Harvard fires fencing coach after admissions probe

The coach, Peter Brand, had accepted high home purchase price from applicant’s father

July 10, 2019

Harvard University fired its fencing coach of 20 years after investigating the unusually high payment he received in the sale of his home to a businessman whose sons were admitted to the university.

The head coach, Peter Brand, “has been dismissed from his position for violating Harvard’s conflict of interest policy”, the university said in a brief statement attributed to Robert L. Scalise, Harvard’s director of athletics.

The Boston Globe newspaper reported in April that Mr Brand and his wife had sold their house in May 2016 for $989,500 (£795,000) despite it’s having an assessed value of just $549,300. The buyer, Jie “Jack” Zhao, had one son already attending Harvard participating with the fencing team, and another son looking to apply to the university and join the team. That second son was also admitted.

The Globe said it learned about the case after a tip from a family that had seen the sale price, learned of its owner and suspected possible similarities to the broader US college admissions scandal that had erupted the previous month. In that scandal, the FBI discovered that various sports coaches at several US colleges – not including Harvard – had accepted bribes to falsely designate students as potential members of their teams to help the students win admission.

Mr Brand declined to discuss the home sale, while Mr Zhao said he acted out of friendship towards Mr Brand and admiration for the fencing team, but without any intent to unduly influence his son’s application to Harvard, the Globe reported.

Harvard had reacted to the college admissions scandal by saying it had protections against such behaviours. After Mr Brand’s home sale was reported, it promised an investigation into the matter. Federal prosecutors also said last month that they had begun investigating Mr Brand’s actions.

In announcing its firing of Mr Brand, Harvard said its “independent investigation of the matter is now complete”.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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