Harvard University has fired longtime fencing coach Peter Brand, who was involved in an admissions scandal having to do with the extremely suspect circumstances of the sale of his home to the family of a high school junior who was later admitted to Harvard as a fencing recruit.
The Boston Globe reported Tuesday that an independent investigation initiated by Harvard determined that Brand violated the university’s conflict-of-interest policy when he sold his home to wealthy Maryland businessman Jie “Jack” Zhao for $989,500 in 2016, or about $440,000 more than its assessed value. Zhao’s eldest son, Eric, was then attending Harvard and competing with the Crimson fencing team; Zhao’s younger son, Edward, was still in high school and “interested in fencing for Harvard.” Zhao purchased Brand’s home at the obscene markup in May 2016; 15 months later Edward began attending Harvard as a fencing recruit; two months after that, in October 2017, Zhao sold the home at a loss of more than $320,000. In the view of Harvard’s investigators, this sequence reeked of conflict. Per the Globe’s report:
“An independent investigation of the matter is now complete, and Mr. Brand has been dismissed from his position for violating Harvard’s conflict-of-interest policy,” Bob Scalise, Harvard’s athletic director, said in a brief statement released Tuesday. “Harvard Athletics is committed to upholding the integrity of our athletics program, and it is our expectation that every coach and staff member adhere unambiguously to our policies.”
Rachael Dane, a Harvard spokeswoman, said the university would not share the details of its outside review into the matter.
But Dane said, “This situation involved the actions of one individual who violated a clear and expressly stated policy that all coaches receive and acknowledge understanding and agree to comply with, in writing, on an annual basis.”
Possibly the best part of all this was Zhao’s explanation for the purchase of the house. Zhao said he felt bad about Brand’s commute to and from Harvard from Needham, so he asked Brand for an estimate of the home’s value and bought it. Of course, Brand’s estimate overshot the value by more than 44 percent, but at least Zhao’s largesse saved Brand from making the [checks notes] 12-mile commute to work.
“From my perspective, I’m just making his life better plus making a good investment,” he said.
Zhao said he had eyeballed the house inside and out, and thought it was “pretty cozy” and a good deal, even though he didn’t do a formal inspection or get it assessed.
“You can ask me why didn’t you check the market value of the house? I did not because I trust him,” Zhao said. “He gave me the price. . . . I said, ‘fine.’”
Brand coached fencing at Harvard for 20 years, and according to the Globe “was only the team’s fourth coach since 1931.” A federal grand jury is reportedly still investigating Zhao’s purchase of Brand’s home, led by the same Assistant US Attorney who is serving as lead prosecutor in the college admissions bribery scandal centered on the shady dealings of The Edge College & Career Network.