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Harvard Dismisses Fencing Coach Over Conflict of Interest Violation

Harvard dimissed head fencing coach Peter Brand over a violation of its conflict of interest policy.
Harvard dimissed head fencing coach Peter Brand over a violation of its conflict of interest policy. By Christie Hung
By Shera S. Avi-Yonah and Delano R. Franklin, Crimson Staff Writers

UPDATED: July 9, 2019 at 3:49 p.m.

Harvard has dismissed head fencing coach Peter Brand after an independent inquiry into the 2016 sale of his home found he violated Harvard’s conflict of interest policy, Athletics Director Robert L. Scalise wrote in an email to athletics staff 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,” Scalise wrote in a statement Tuesday.

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay announced the investigation in April, after the Boston Globe reported that 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 at the College — was admitted to Harvard shortly following his father’s purchase of Brand’s home. Zhao’s other son graduated from the College in 2018.

Brand and other Harvard coaches are required to annually agree to the University’s conflict of interest policy. The University also provided coaches with additional conflict of interest training following its announcement of the investigation into Brand.

“A conflict of interest exists when individual commitment to the University may be compromised by personal benefit,” an Athletics income disclosure form reads. “Employees are expected to avoid situations or activities that could interfere with their unencumbered exercise of judgment in the best interests of Harvard University.”

Brand could not immediately be reached for a request for comment.

Separately, a federal grand jury is also investigating Brand’s sale of his house to Zhao. Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric S. Rosen’s office subpoenaed the Needham Board of Assessors in April for documents related to the valuation of Brand’s home. Grand jury proceedings occur in secret, leaving the status of the investigation uncertain.

College spokesperson Rachael Dane declined to comment on the details of the independent review and the grand jury probe. Scalise wrote in his email to staff Tuesday that the Athletics Department will conduct a “national search” to replace Brand and that he expects to fill the head coach position by the early fall.

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.

—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.

—Staff writer Delano R. Franklin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @delanofranklin_.

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