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Harvard fires fencing coach after home sale is questioned

July 9, 2019
The university says Peter Brand violated conflict-of-interest rules when he sold his home to a businessman whose son was seeking admission to Harvard.

Harvard University has fired its fencing coach for violating a conflict-of-interest policy by selling his home to a businessman whose son was hoping to attend the university.

The Harvard Crimson reports that Peter Brand was dismissed after an independent inquiry into the 2016 sale of his home. 

Brand sold his Needham, Mass., home to Jie Zhao, the father of two current and former Harvard fencers, for well over its assessed market value. One of Zhao’s two sons — a rising junior — was admitted to Harvard shortly following his father’ acquired Brand’s home. Zhao’s other son graduated from Harvard in 2018.

“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,” Athletics Director Robert L. Scalise wrote in a statement Tuesday.

The university launched an investigation earlier this year after The Boston Globe reported on the home sale. The newspaper said Brand's three-bedroom home was assessed at $549,300 and sold for $989,500. 

A federal grand jury also is investigating Brand’s sale of his house to Zhao. Prosecutors subpoenaed the Needham Board of Assessors in April for documents related to the valuation of Brand’s home. 

The shakeup in the athletics department comes in the wake of a separate federal investigation into a national college admissions scandal that involved charges against 50 people for bribery and racketeering.

In that case, six Harvard alumni were among the celebrities and college coaches accused of defrauding admissions offices of elite colleges and universities throughout the country. Current Harvard faculty, staff, and students were not directly implicated in that case.

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