Harvard University has announced that longtime men's and women's fencing coach Peter Brand has been fired for violating the school's conflict-of-interest policy.
The Boston Globe reported Tuesday that Brand received $989,500 in 2016 for the sale of his suburban Boston home to wealthy businessman Jie Zhao, whose teenage son was subsequently admitted to Harvard and joined the Crimson fencing program. Zhao never lived in the home, which was assessed at the time at $549,300, and sold it a $324,500 loss 17 months later. The Globe described the home as a modest, three-bedroom Colonial in Needham.
“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.”
According to the Globe, a separate email from Scalise to coaches and athletics staff pointed to a Harvard policy that states that “[a] conflict of interest exists when individual commitment to the university may be compromised by personal benefit.” The policy also states that “[f]ailure to disclose possible conflict of interest or commitment . . . may be grounds for disciplinary action and may lead to termination.”
Brand coached at Brown and MIT before becoming Harvard’s men’s and women’s fencing coach in 1999. He led Harvard to its first NCAA team championship and delivered 12 Ivy League titles, four by the women and eight by the men.
Both Brand and Zhao have denied any wrongdoing, but the Globe reported in June that a federal grand jury is investigating the sale.
“I want to help Peter Brand because I feel so sorry he has to travel so much to go to fencing practice,” Zhao, cofounder of an international telecommunications firm, told the Globe in April, of the coach’s roughly 12-mile commute to Cambridge.
Zhao has said his son didn’t need any extra help getting into Harvard, as reported by the Globe. He was a successful fencer and near straight-A student in high school, notched a nearly perfect SAT score, and had Harvard family connections — his older brother was then a student and a fencer, and his mother has multiple Harvard graduate degrees.
According to Harvard officials, each recruited athlete is interviewed, and the final decision on admission for everyone, including athletes, is made by a 40-person committee. That said, coaches play a role in the admissions process, flagging favored recruits for the committee, which makes the final admissions decision.
As of today, the Harvard athletics website only lists two assistant coaches for fencing. The university will launch a national search for a new head coach, with the hope of having that person in place in early fall.