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Overlap Group will not meet

By Andrea Lamberti

Members of the Overlap Group, an organization of colleges and universities that includes MIT and the Ivy League schools, will not be meeting as usual this spring to exchange information about financial aid packages for admitted students, said Vice President Constantine B. Simonides '57.

Director of Student Financial Aid Leonard V. Gallagher '54 referred questions to Simonides, who said he learned of the group's decision from The Harvard Crimson.

The decision not to meet coincides with an ongoing Department of Justice investigation of the schools for possible violations of antitrust laws, and may mean that the department has determined that the meetings are violations, according to The Boston Globe. The group met last year even though the investigation was underway.

Daniel Steiner, vice president and general counsel for Harvard University, told the Globe, "In light of the concerns that the Justice Department has expressed . . . we thought that as a sign of good faith, we would not meet this year while discussions are under way to resolve outstanding differences."

The Justice Department is "investigating alleged violations of the Sherman Act in connection with tuition, faculty salaries and financial aid at colleges and universities," Justice Department spokesman Gina Talamona said.

Talamona would not comment on specifics of the investigation or whether a settlement is being negotiated, saying only that "it's ongoing."

Simonides said that as far as he knows, MIT is not negotiating a settlement with the Justice Department. The Institute deals with the department through legal counsel, he said.

Although the Justice Department has not divulged the names of schools involved, the number of schools, or their geographic location, the investigation of late has focused on the 23 private colleges and universities that make up the Overlap Group, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The Overlap Group has met each year to make sure admitted students receive similar aid packages, and its members base their decisions on factors other than money, according to the Chronicle.

Simonides said the purpose of the group is "to help students in need. Not having it would hinder processes that provide financial aid."

Simonides said MIT received a request for information one and a half years ago. MIT has responded to questions from the Justice Department, and that has been the extent of MIT's contact with the department, he said.

The Justice Department has asked MIT about "how decisions are made about Overlap meetings," about information on meetings between financial aid officers, on parental contributions, and about other decision processes at MIT, Simonides said.

While some universities have changed certain policies on sharing information with other universities as a result of the investigation, MIT has not, Simonides said. "We're sensitive on exchanging information with other institutions, but we haven't changed any policies."

MIT continues to exchange demographic information with other schools. "There's no problem with that, and there never will be. But who's talking with whom about what may have to change. We're open, complying with requests, and waiting to see what the outcome will be," Simonides said.

The effects of the investigation remain to be seen, Simonides said. Universities have thrived on open communication, and it is still early to measure the effects of not communicating. "We've been sensitized about exchanging information with other schools, and that may have a long-term negative effect," he said.

The investigation has cost MIT "an awful lot" in terms of time and money, Simonides said. Dealing with the probe involves many people, both for collecting and transmitting information, plus lawyer time; overall, "it's tough to quantify exactly" the total cost of complying with the investigation.

Simonides did not comment on the motives of the Justice Department's investigation. "I just take what comes at face value. A request came, and we got on to answering it," he said.

In addition to MIT and the Ivy League, the Overlap group includes Amherst, Williams, Tufts, Middlebury, Colby, Bowdoin, Trinity, Wesleyan, Barnard, Wellesley, Vassar, Smith, Mount Holyoke and Bryn Mawr.