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Harvard Athletics Study Unrelated to Fencing Scandal, FAS Dean Gay Says

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay.
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay. By Jocelyn Wang
By Jonah S. Berger and Molly C. McCafferty, Crimson Staff Writers

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ review of the athletics department is unrelated to the recent firing of former head fencing coach Peter Brand, FAS Dean Claudine Gay said in an interview Wednesday.

Rather, the review — which is “totally launched and completely underway” — was prompted by the centennial of the Athletics Department’s founding in 1926, according to Gay. A committee comprising top administrators including Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana and Athletics Director Robert L. Scalise is overseeing the review, which is examining the “student-athlete experience,” the culture of individual athletics programs, and the structure and operations of the department as a whole, Gay said.

“[The centennial] has been a really salient milestone in my mind, in the minds of many of the leaders in Athletics,” she said. “It’s about seeing it as an opportunity for us to step back and begin to set our aspirations for the next century in a way that builds on what I think is broadly considered, and rightfully so, a century of successes.”

Harvard Athletics has suffered a series of scandals in the past few years. Most recently, Harvard dismissed Brand in July after an independent inquiry into the 2016 sale of his Needham, Mass. home to the father of a fencing recruit found that he had violated Harvard’s conflict of interest policy.

In April, the Boston Globe reported Brand sold the house to Jie Zhao — the father of current and former Harvard fencers — for $300,000 above its assessed value. One of Zhao’s two sons gained admission to Harvard shortly after the purchase, while Zhao’s other son graduated from the College in 2018.

Though University President Lawrence S. Bacow said in April that the investigation into Brand included University-level input, Gay said Wednesday that the decision to terminate Brand ultimately rested with the Athletics Department, though she was also consulted.

“The Athletics Department concluded that Peter Brand should not be a coach anymore, and I've supported that,” she said.

Other teams within the department — which includes 42 varsity teams, the most of any NCAA Division I school — have faced their own scandals. Last fall, head diving coach Chris Heaton resigned following allegations of sexual misconduct. In 2016, the Office of the General Counsel reviewed the men’s soccer team and the men’s cross-country team after The Crimson reported that members of both teams separately circulated spreadsheets with sexually explicit comments about members of the women’s soccer and cross-country teams.

The new review will encompass “every set of constituencies in the athletics orbit,” according to Gay, including students, coaches, faculty, and faculty deans, among others. Almost 1,200 undergraduates — roughly 20 percent of the student body — are on Harvard’s varsity sports teams.

The committee overseeing the review will use a mix of focus groups, interviews, and surveys to gather its data.

Harvard’s review comes as other schools across the country grapple with the fallout of a nationwide college admissions scandal that has thrust athletic recruitment into the national spotlight. Yale, Stanford, and the University of Southern California are conducting audits and implementing more stringent oversight of their athletics departments after an FBI investigation revealed dozens of parents had helped their children fraudulently gain admission by manipulating schools’ athletic recruitment systems.

Harvard has not been implicated in that scandal, and Gay said that its review will not touch upon the College’s admissions and recruitment practices.

—Staff writer Jonah S. Berger can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jonahberger98.

—Staff writer Molly C. McCafferty can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @mollmccaff.

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