Harvard Is Investigating Questions about Fencing Coach’s House Sale

So was it bribery? An "independent review" is underway.


Entrance gate and East facade of Sever Hall at Harvard Yard | Photo via Getty Images/Roman Babakin

When the college admissions scandal broke last month, in which wealthy parents were accused of paying bribes to get their kids into elite colleges with help from coaches and fraudulent test-takers, Harvard stayed largely out of the conversation, as the university was not named in the allegations. But a new case brought to light by a bombshell report in the Boston Globe has thrust the storied university into its spotlight, and may offer another look at how the children of the wealthy get a leg-up at top schools.

The Globe‘s investigation, released Thursday, takes a close look at a curious real estate deal involving Harvard’s head fencing coach, Peter Brand, and Jie Zhao, a businessman whose son was later admitted to Harvard and joined its fencing team. According to the report, in 2016, Brand sold his modest Needham home to Zhao for about a million dollars—a generous sum that the Globe‘s reporting suggests was hundreds of thousands of dollars above the home’s actual value. Which, naturally, has raised some questions about what might have motivated Zhao to pay such a price (he later sold the home at a more than $300,000 loss). The report also raised questions about some other donations to nonprofits. Zhao, whose older son is also on the Harvard fencing team, insists the sale and donations were legitimate and unrelated to his younger son’s college prospects.

Harvard is now conducting an “independent review” of the situation, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay wrote in a statement released Thursday. Gay stressed that while it takes the allegations seriously, the university does not believe the situation is “related in any way to the ‘Operation Varsity Blues’ scheme.”

But it does seem pretty fishy, a fact that Zhou himself apparently acknowledged in interviews. So did the coach’s relationship with the athlete’s family amount to bribery? We may soon find out.