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Summary Judgment in Overlap Case Unlikely; Trial Date Set

By Brian Rosenberg
Editor in Chief

A trial date has been set for MIT's battle with the federal government over its financial aid consultations with other universities. At a hearing Thursday in Philadelphia, Judge Louis C. Bechtle also indicated that the government's motion for a summary judgment in the case would probably not be granted.

The trial, which will also be held in Philadelphia, was set for June 25. In its suit, the Justice Department alleges that MIT violated the Sherman Antitrust Act when it met with a group of other universities, known as the Overlap Group, to set rules for determining financial aid for incoming students.

The Justice Department filed for a summary judgment on April 3, asking for a ruling on the case without a trial. MIT asserted that granting the summary judgment would unfairly deny the Institute the right to fully present its case.

No date has been set for the formal hearing on the government's motion, according to Ken Campbell, director of the MIT News Office. MIT will file its response to the government's motion on Friday, after which the judge may make a ruling.

"The judge said that in perhaps one in 1,000 cases, a summary judgment is granted, and those are frequently overturned," said Bruce Pearson, a Washington-based lawyer working on the case with the Justice Department.

Pearson added that litigants often file for a summary judgment as a matter of course, and because "it helps you organize your case." Pearson said litigants often claim they are confident that such a motion will be granted when "they really know how few of them are actually granted." Pearson indicated that he expected the case to go trial, but said that "if MIT wants to talk about a settlement, we'd be willing to listen."

Thane Scott, a lawyer representing MIT in the case, hinted that no settlement was forthcoming. "We are pleased that a date has been set and we expect the trial to proceed," he said.

MIT refused to sign decree

The need for a trial stems from MIT's refusal to sign a consent decree saying it agrees not to discuss financial aid policies in the future. All other members of the Overlap Group, including the eight Ivy League universities, signed the decree last May.

"The government contended it was an unlawful and unreasonable restraint of trade and commerce for the schools to agree to give financial aid solely on the basis of economic need, and to cooperate in making sure that private financial aid given to commonly-admitted undergraduates was based solely on the students' financial need," according to an MIT statement.

MIT holds that the Overlap meetings increased the amount of money available for need-based financial aid, as well as eliminating the need for schools to engage in a bidding war of merit-based aid.