Lawyer Plans Suit Over Aid Collusion

A local attorney is seeking plaintiffs for a possible class action lawsuit charging Harvard and eight other universities with colluding to reduce or eliminate financial aid packages for students.

Cambridge attorney William F. Swiggart has placed four advertisements in The Crimson over the last two weeks advising Harvard and MIT students to contact him if they are interested in participating in the lawsuit.

"Your admissions office may have engaged in collusion with other colleges to which you were admitted to eliminate or reduce your scholarship aid and to increase the general fee paid by all students," the advertisement reads. "You may be entitled to damages of treble your aid reduction and the general fee increase."

The possible suit stems from a two-year investigation by the Department of Justice that culminated in a lawsuit charging Harvard and the other schools with violating federal antitrust laws by discussing financial aid packages for individual applicants.

Harvard and seven other schools settled that suit out of court before the decision was handed down by agreeing to stop discussing individual applicants.

Only MIT took the case to court, resulting in a September 2, 1992 decision by United States District Court Judge Louis G. Bechtle enjoining the institute from discussing tuition or financial aid policies on a case-by-case basis.

MIT is appealing that verdict. The institute is basing its appeal on what it feels are flaws in the judge's reasoning, according to Kenneth E. Campbell, director of the MIT News Office.

"We continue to maintain that antitrust laws should not apply to charitable funds being used for charitable purposes," Campbell said.

Swiggart last night declined to comment in any detail on the potential lawsuit, saying only that he had received "more than one" phone call from Harvard students interested in learning more about it. Swiggart said he had not heard from students at any of the other schools.

The Cambridge attorney also declined to comment on whether he would charge students for his services.

"I would invite any student who is interested to contact me about that and we would discuss it," he said.

Robert B. Donin, a University attorney who has handled the antitrust case for Harvard, and MIT lawyer Thane D. Scott did not return phone calls last night.

Campbell said he had no knowledge of a potential class action lawsuit against MIT But he said that the institute is prepared for a lengthy challenge of the district court's decision.

"We'll see how this develops, but I'd say it's not out of the question that it would go to the Supreme Court," Campbell said.

An earlier attempt at a class-action lawsuit against universities faltered this fall when a federal judge in New York dismissed a suit initiated by a Wesleyan University student. The lawsuit, which was an attempt to get compensation for tuition price-fixing, was dismissed because an attorney involved was found to be unqualified to handle the case