A referendum held by the Faculty of Music ended with 67 per cent of voting students in favour of a special levy that would see their student society fees increased steeply as part of a bid to close a gaping deficit in the faculty’s budget.

The fee, previously $15 a year, will gradually increase over the next three years: first to $315, then $615, and then $1,215. The changes are pending approval by the University Affairs Board of Governing Council.

Faculty of Music Undergraduate Association (FMUA) co-presidents Douglas Brenton and Jenna Richards said that the faculty’s severe structural deficit would soon begin to cause cutbacks to courses, reducing the availability of practice rooms and impacting class sizes.

The referendum, which took place March 11–15, had a voter turnout of 51 per cent. Brenton and Richards say that number, and the supermajority that voted in favour of the increase, “speaks a significant message” that “demonstrates the concern students have about the future sustainability of the Faculty of Music.”

First brought to the faculty’s executive council last November, the idea of holding a referendum to increase the levy was approved by the full council in December.

The referendum and its stakes were advertised to students over the holidays, with the administration sending emails to all students and regular updates on social media networks.

Three student forums were held in the new year to further engage students.

Faculty dean Don McLean was in attendance, and responded to student concerns alongside the fmua. He advocated the “long-term value and investment” represented by the fee increase.

“Anything that happens to this school in the future will affect the value of your degree. The better your degree, the more you are valued,” said McLean.

One major concern has been that students may not be able to afford such a steep increase in fees. McLean has urged students in this position to meet with him. Members of the faculty have also donated money to create bursaries for this specific purpose.

The fee, however, cannot entirely be covered under osap and students will be unable to opt out of paying it.

While acknowledging the significant degree by which fees are increasing, the faculty has said that it is a necessary measure: funds gathered by the expanded levy represent barely one-third of the structural deficit.

In addition to the levy increase, the faculty is making other cutbacks, relying on donations as well as continuing their concert series to raise additional funds.

The increased fees will be used to cover non-academic costs and extra-curricular activities, such as improved activity spaces for students, external performance opportunities, free concerts, and attendance to other events, class accompanists and career workshops.

The FMUA is currently in the process of drafting a contract, the terms of which would ensure that a separate account is created for the money from the levy, to be handled by Financial Services at the Faculty. Brenton and Richards see this as the best way to “secure a professional and trustworthy approach” to the increased funds.

Student society fees technically enable students to participate in fmua events and are monitored by a financial chair on the fmua council.

“We do not foresee any problems, because it is all about the trust bond that is being created between the FMUA and the Faculty of Music. The contract will hopefully eliminate any potential future problems,” said the two outgoing co-presidents  in a statement.

In spite of the protection and assurances to be offered by the contract, some students have expressed concerns about the use of the new funds. Meagan Turner, a second-year student in the Faculty, remains confused about the lack of attention on private lessons this year, compared to when the issue was first raised.

“I think solving the initial problem of private lessons is important, perhaps revamping MacMillan and Walter Halls. Since most donors see concerts, it would make sense to make that experience as pleasurable as possible,” said Turner.

“I think overall the referendum was run very well though, and it’s a shame that so much of the undergrad population didn’t vote,” she added.

While the increase was originally presented as an ancillary fee (and categorized as a ‘private lessons’ fee), this would not have left sufficient funds to address other important changes in the Music Faculty.

The Faculty maintains that if this levy is not implemented, there is a chance they would have to become a department within the University of Toronto, rather than a faculty, with funding and enrolment to be handled by the Faculty of Arts & Science.

They would also incur further cuts in courses, leaving only basic courses being taught, and a massive increase in class sizes.

The student levy proposal will be appearing before the University Affairs Board of the Governing Council on April 30. If approved, the first increase will be charged to students in the fall 2013 session.