The Faculty of Music Undergraduate Association (FMUA) is seeking to establish an endowment fund independent of U of T. The fund is set to launch in September 2016.
The initiative features two main short-term objectives. According to the official proposal for the fund, it was contrived “to improve the co-curricular experience of the Faculty of Music undergraduate students.”
The proposal states that “the principle of the fund can be spent on capital projects such as the construction of student space in the future.”
The plan is for $120,000 to be invested into the fund each year at a rate of $200 per student. The interest rate of six per cent could then help reduce other fees incurred by the FMUA.
According to Mathias Memmel, FMUA co-president, the decision to establish an endowment fund separate from the university is consistent with the society’s mission. “The problem with doing it through the university is that you don’t actually retain the funds, they are no longer the assets of the corporation — really it’s a donation to the university that you have some say over.”
Memmel believes that giving a third-party the final say on where students’ money is invested is inappropriate, noting that “for [the FMUA], we see it as an infringement on our autonomy as a student society and we want to be sure that we are keeping those funds in trust on the behalf of the students.”
The FMUA is striving for complete autonomy with respect to the endowment fund, in order to best serve the interests of students. “We have to be absolutely accountable to our membership and how we spend the money,” said Memmel.
The FMUA is a supporter of ethical divestment and is looking to create a stock portfolio that reflects this. Memmel goes on to explain that “U of T has an incredible return on its endowment find — upwards of six per cent sometimes — but you have to balance that with your morals.”
“If this money is being used to subsidize our mental health and wellness counselor, our study spaces, or the café — it can’t be on the backs of cultural genocide across the world,” Memmel added.
The FMUA hopes to use the returns to power its initiatives aimed at improving student life. This year, a writing centre solely for music students was created and a tutoring program staffed by graduate students was organized to provide extra help with lecture material. Future plans include recruitment of a Mental Health and Wellness Counselor to help cater to the special needs of music students, as well as a student-run café in the lobby of the main building.
“The building is on its last legs,” said Memmel; “it was designed for 400 people and there are about 1,000 people working out of this space right now and so part of it that there is a shortage of some very key things.” Practice rooms, student lounge space, and meeting spaces for smaller clubs are a high priority, with the prospect of a need for a new building in sight.
Currently, these initiatives are funded using the student levy fund which collected nearly $525,000 last year and holds $700,000 with the dean from previous years. Induced by the FMUA, the heavy student levy fees were collected to offset improvement costs, but were never put to use. The endowment fund “is a way of long-term reducing the burden [of the levy fees],” Memmel said.