MIT professor’s book digs into the eclectic, textually linked reading choices of people in medieval London.
News Office: What is the impact of this decision on MIT short-term and long-term?
Charles M. Vest: I think there is only a short-term impact. We intend to immediately begin the process of appealing this decision because we still believe it is incorrect. Hopefully, there is no long-term effect because we intend to file a successful appeal.
News Office: How will it affect other colleges and universities?
CMV: Unfortunately this is likely to send a chill of nervousness through a large number of other schools, predominantly small liberal arts colleges which still have the Department of Justice sword hanging over their head.
They have been served earlier with a civil investigative demand and the Justice Department appears to have had on hold the potential action of filing a formal complaint against them as they did against MIT and the Ivies. I had hoped our victory would remove that threat. Unfortunately, now it will remain with them.
But they, like everyone else in the country, can be assured that MIT intends to appeal this decision and fight very hard to win it. We believe we have not violated the Sherman Antitrust Act and the principles for which we are standing up are the correct ones. We are quite confident that the appellate court will understand that.
News Office: Briefly what is the case about?
CMV: From MIT's perspective, it's very simple. The case is about the ability of educational institutions to distribute charitable funds in the form of financial aid in a manner that they believe does the most social and educational good. In our case that is the desire to distribute undergraduate financial aid solely on the basis of the need of the individual students and their families with the understanding that merit has been established through the admissions process.
What this means for us short term, of course, is that we will be going forward with this appeal and some of the time and resources we'd prefer to devote to education will be going to this appeal. We'll continue to operate of course within the framework of the law but I hasten to point out that in the recently signed Higher Education Reauthorization Act, some of the overlap behaviors have been stated firmly as being permissible. And assuming our legal counsel agrees with my understanding of this, we will continue publicly to agree with other schools that we will base our financial aid only on need and within the scope of the new law we will agree on methodologies for determining that need.
News Office: Why did MIT refuse to sign the consent decree?
CMV: First and foremost because we believed the way in which we handled our financial aid was appropriate and in the best interests of our students and educationally of the nation.
When I go around the country to raise money for MIT, a typical donor will say, "I was able to go to MIT because of financial aid. Otherwise that
education would not have been possible. I want to make it possible for the next generation of young men and women." I do not believe donors give
money in the expectation that it will be given to people who don't need it.
That's a very important principle and one of the basic reasons MIT chose to fight this.
Second we have believed all along that the Sherman Antitrust Act didn't apply to us and we were not in violation of the law.
News Office: You raise a very important point that people don't want to give money for students who don't need it.
CMV: That's a very common thing to hear if you're a president or fund raiser for a highly competitive institution of higher education. And it's something we're especially proud of at MIT. Because of our long-standing focus on engineering and science we have typically had a larger percentage of our student body from families of limited means. They're often the first generation to go to college and they see engineering partly as an upward pathway.
News Office: Why do you believe the Justice Department brought this case?
CMV: That's a question that should be directed to the Justice Department.
Frankly I've been mystified since day one why their attorneys have been spending their time and the taxpayers' money on this ludicrous case.
From our perspective it has been a defense of strongly held principles that in our universities and at MIT in particular, we believe admission should be based on merit and that financial aid should be distributed only according to need.
News Office: An impressive number of colleges and universities and other educational institutions filed amicus briefs. Why do you think they did this and how do you think they feel about this now?
CMV: I believe that as the trial proceedings moved forward, more and more people around the country began to understand the importance of this case in terms of unwarranted intrusions of the federal government into the activities of charitable organizations and institutions and what it means for social and educational policy for the country.
I assume that that sentiment has grown and that those who filed amicus briefs are quite disappointed, but it makes my resolve even firmer to move
ahead with this.
News Office: What do you think this decision says about the relationship of the US government to colleges and universities, an issue I know you are particularly concerned with?
CMV: My personal belief is that this is a rather isolated action. I don't think it's an activity of the government in the large but for some reason has been pursued by a small number of attorneys in the Justice Department. The Congress itself spoke legislatively in the recently signed Higher Education Reauthorization Act, upholding most of the behaviors the Justice Department has been attacking . So in that sense I don't see this as a large blot on the government per se. On the other hand each of these individual activities by different branches of the government has a chilling effect on higher education. The load is becoming quite oppressive and in that sense this judgment does add to the concern.
News Office: What is your opinion of merit aid?
CMV: Merit aid has its place. I want to be extremely clear that MIT does not believe that its philosophy on financial aid should be imposed on other
colleges and universities which operate in different contexts. For example most large public institutions do not have the level of endowment and private support that allows them to provide need-based aid for all their students, particularly their out-of-state students. In their own context they may decide they need to distribute some portion of their aid on the basis of merit in order to maintain a high quality student body. Their needs may be quite different than those of MIT and the Ivy League schools. But at MIT all of the students admitted are highly meritorious and have met very high academic standards. We believe our limited resources should go to helping those who need it most.
News Office: I understand that you were once given a college scholarship you turned down because you felt you didn't need the money and someone else did.
CMV: It is true that when I was a young man I was offered a modest merit based scholarship. I believed my parents, while certainly not wealthy, were
able to pay my tuition at West Virginia University. So I did return that scholarship and asked that it be given to someone who really needed it.