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Students Support Cost of Overlap Suit Defense

By Josh Hartmann

Engaging the federal government in the Overlap dispute has become an expensive proposition for MIT, with legal costs alone exceeding $1 million. But students, who pick up a large portion of the costs, seem to support the fight.

Constantine B. Simonides '57, vice president and secretary of the MIT Corporation, confirmed published reports placing the legal costs at over $1 million. But he was quick to point out that there are large additional costs which will quickly add up once the Institute's planned appeal begins.

"Legal fees are just one thing," Simonides said. "There is also the time of top officers and administrators. The cost of this thing is very high to MIT."

Risks involved

MIT has taken some risks in pursuing the matter, Simonides said, including opening itself up to the possibility of a class action suit by current and former students.

"There are risks," he said. "It's a matter of judgment in taking these risks."

"It is very important that we were able to" pursue the issue, Simonides said. "I would feel very good that MIT stood up to it. Maybe we could cut down future costs," he said.

For the immediate future, however, the Institute can still look forward to rising appeals costs.

A spokesman for Palmer and Dodge, the law firm representing MIT in the case, said attorneys there did not anticipate winning the case at trial. "It's really at the appellate level that [the attorneys] feel success will be gained," said Sarah Smyth-Clancey. "We will take it to the Supreme Court if need be."

An important issue

"This is a very, very important issue, and it does have important consequences for how we conduct ourselves as an institution," Simonides said. "I hope we can carry on, and prevail, so we can be left alone and freely exchange information and ideas."

"I don't think twice about it in terms of the importance of it," Simonides said. "I would say that I am very happy and proud to be a member of an institution that stands up to what it believes to be an important issue, that stands up to government intrusion. What is very unfortunate is that the government has chosen to sue on this issue."

Student support

Students were generally supportive of the Institute's stand, despite the cost, which runs well over $100 per student.

"I'm peeved about the decision," said Jason R. Wilcox '93. "Without a doubt we should be arguing this. If schools start competing for freshmen, if you're not one of the people being competed for, does that mean you can't go to that school? There's sometimes a principle that has to be fought for."

Another student said that while MIT was correct in fighting the suit, the Institute should not have had to stand up alone.

"It would be nice if some of the Overlap members had contributed," said Kenneth A. Ellis '93. "But it was a worthy fight. I'm not concerned about the $100 per student. I'm more concerned about losing the case."

Ellis defended MIT's policy of need-based aid, and argued that the government should stay clear of the issue.

"Basically I think that need-based aid is a good idea and something that should definitely be implemented. I think the purpose of the suit is that the government will introduce some sort of legislation for need-based aid. It's working just fine right now. I don't think the government should interfere."

Bernard Y. Chin '93 also defended the Institute's stand.

"I think we should go ahead and pursue the suit," he said. "I believe that the MIT financial aid system has been working well so far, and I don't think there should be any changes to it."

Chin added that while he was offered relatively similar financial aid packages among the Ivy League schools he applied to, he chose MIT after "rationalizing that it was the best engineering school."