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Music students hold referendum on fee increase

Music students will vote on whether to increase ancillary fees by $333 per year for music lessons in a referendum this week.

The referendum came in the wake of new regulations from the Quebec Ministry of Education mandating that ancillary fee increases either be approved by student consultation or under a certain amount – $15 per year, in McGill’s case.

While the decree does not specify what kind of consultation is appropriate, the Music Undergraduate Student Association (MUSA) voted nearly unanimously, with one abstention, to hold a referendum.

MUSA President Alex Dyck, who was in a piano lesson when the executives voted, said he was not in favour of holding a referendum.

“This easily allows very negative consequences on the basis of potential for misinformation,” Dyck said.

A committee consisting of representatives from MUSA, SSMU, and the School of Music is drafting an information report for students about the music lesson fee and the referendum. MUSA will not be creating “Yes” or “No” committees.

Naomi Perley, Academic representative for MUSA, said that except for Dyck, council was in favour of a referendum.

“The majority of the executive felt like the students really had a right to choose this one for themselves,” Perley said.

While Don McLean, Dean of Music, was in favour of the referendum process, he explained that a “No” vote could slow down the construction of practice rooms and delay the purchase of new pianos.

“It’s going to be a real setback,” McLean sad.

The School of Music levied a new fee for music lessons in 2006, to be phased in over a period of three years. This year students paid $667 annually for music fees, and the proposed ancillary fee increase raises the amount to $1,000.

SSMU VP External Affairs Max Silverman said that in 2006, when tuition fees were frozen, that year’s fee increase was illegal because it served educational purposes.

“When it was first brought in, MUSA constituted that it was a tuition fee increase and therefore illegal under Quebec law,” he said.

McLean said that he faced a $244,000 budget cut from the administration this year. He added that the administration was much more likely to contribute more to Music if the School found other sources of funding.

“The most important part of the fee is not revenue, but the leveraging effect it has with the University to continue to supply other things, such as renovations and rental space,” he said. “We’ve been in a chronic shortfall situation for years. There’s just not enough money – including tuition – to operate a music school of our size and calibre.”

Many students expressed frustration that lesson fees have increased despite flashy donations and a new music library, built after a $20-million donation from philanthropist Seymour Schulich.

Kate Molleson, a graduate in music performance, argued that, while the School of Music had gained prestige through the recent completion of the new library, students often didn’t see the results of such benefactions.

“There’s a lot of glamour, and it’s a great thing for international prestige. But that isn’t really experienced by the day-to-day student,” she said. “Of course people are upset with paying more fees when they don’t see the results.”

Damon Hankoff, a recent graduate in music theory, said that as an international student, lesson credits cost $500 a semester without the new increase, meaning that if next year’s fee increase were to pass, the cost of one lesson would be about $80. He pointed out that, outside the school, professional lessons tend to cost just $50.

Hankoff argued that such steep fees were unfair, especially for music students, whose degrees tend not to be worth as much.

The referendum will run from Wednesday to Friday this week, with Elections McGill running the online vote.