A new report reveals that the father of two members of the Harvard fencing team bought a house from their coach for almost double its value before the students got into the school. Now the university says they are investigating.
The Boston Globe reported on Thursday that before Harvard fencing coach Peter Brand sold his home in Needham, Massachusetts, it was valued at $549,300. In May 2016, he sold it for $985,000. The town’s top assessor noted that the transaction “made no sense.” Making things even more curious is that the buyer, Jie Zhao, reportedly sold the house 17 months later at a loss of $324,500, without ever living there.
It turns out that Zhao’s two sons are fencers, and that the younger one started at Harvard soon after the sale. Zhao acknowledged to the Globe that the transaction may look bad, but that it had nothing to do with getting his son into school. He pointed out that the student had almost all A’s in high school, practically aced the SATs, his older brother was already a Harvard fencer at the time, and his mother was a Harvard alum.
“It’s a no-brainer, I don’t have to do anything,” Zhao said about his younger son’s credentials. He said that he and Brand had become friends over the years, and he bought the house to help the coach move closer to the school.
The older son has since graduated, but the younger one is a sophomore. They told the Globe that they were not aware that their father bought the house from Brand.
The suspicious sale has raised eyebrows, given the recent indictments against parents accused of being involved in a college admissions scam. Allegations have included paying money to help children cheat on entrance exams, and falsifying athletic credentials. Harvard has not been implicated in this, and ABC’s Good Morning America noted that a key difference is that while actress Lori Loughlin is accused of paying to create fake athletic profiles for her daughters, Zhao’s sons really are fencers—and quite good ones.
“They’re considered some of the best,” ABC’s Paula Farris said.
Still, Harvard says they are looking into the matter. Dean Claudine Gay said in a statement that there is much they don’t know about the situation, but they’re looking into it.
“Three days in, there is a lot we still don’t know,” Gay said. “Our current understanding is that these allegations are not related in any way to the ‘Operation Varsity Blues’ scheme to influence student college admissions decisions at several prominent American research universities, alleged by United States federal prosecutors. Harvard has not been named in that allegation.
The statement went on to describe Harvard’s thorough recruitment process for athletes:
Our process is distinctive in two important ways. First, the applications of all recruited student-athletes are reviewed by the full admissions committee and decisions are made through a vote of the entire committee. The committee has approximately 40 members. Second, all recruited student-athletes must be interviewed by an admissions officer or alumni interviewer. It is my understanding that other institutions may have different practices.
Nevertheless, Gay said the school must take whatever action is appropriate.
“Regardless of what we eventually learn about these allegations, this is not a time for complacency,” she said. “Where there are opportunities to clarify practices and strengthen procedures, we must act on them, and do so with a sense of urgency. ”
ABC News reports that the school has hired outside counsel to help investigate the matter.
[Image via ABC screengrab]