Former DFA execs make record-breaking donation to music school expansion

Rex Sinquefield resigned from the DFA board in 2013, just six days after a teachers union accused him of having ties to people who favor cutting teachers’ pension.

For years, MU administrators struggled to relieve music students of the constrained and limited resources of the School of Music. But a recent donation might give new momentum to a project to renovate and expand the music program.

A $10 million donation, the largest MU has ever received, will fund a facility for the school, MU officials announced Friday. The gift comes from Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield, former executives of Dimensional Fund Advisors and residents of Westphalia, Missouri.

“We want Mizzou to become an international mecca for music composition,” Jeanne Sinquefield said in a news release. "Currently the School of Music is spread out in five different buildings across the entire campus. By giving the School its own facility, we can not only take a large step in positioning MU as a leader in music composition, but also help to create opportunities for the School to become a leader in music performance and education as well.”

The Sinquefields did not receive their education from MU — they received their master’s in business administration from the University of Chicago — but are “heavily engaged” with MU. Jeanne Sinquefield currently serves as a board member for the All We Call Mizzou steering committee, which raised $1 billion in scholarships for the university in five years, according to the release.

And this is not the first time the Sinquefields have donated to MU. The couple spends their retirement days running the Sinquefield Foundation and donating to programs and projects with which they are passionate.

According to the foundation’s website, Jeanne Sinquefield is a bassist in three central Missouri symphonies and her passion for music is reflected in the foundation’s past gifts. She gifted $1 million in 2009 to create the Mizzou New Music Initiative, which expanded university scholarships, ensembles and faculty support in the School of Music. The foundation gifted an additional $1.4 million in 2013 to keep the initiative going.

Prior to their retirement in 2005, Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield led DFA, a multi-billion dollar investment firm based in Austin, Texas, as chief executive officer and executive vice president, respectively. The firm has enjoyed great financial success over the years; DFA amassed a record growth of assets — $16.7 billion in new assets — in the first three quarters of 2013, according to a 2013 Forbes report.

Rex Sinquefield, a Saint Louis native, continued his affiliation with the firm he founded in 1981 as a board member until he voluntarily stepped down in 2013 after a national teachers union accused him of being linked to people who favored cutting teachers’ pensions.

His resignation was announced six days after the American Federation of Teachers blacklisted DFA, claiming Rex Sinquefield and other executives had ties to people “advocating for the elimination of traditional defined benefit plans,” according to a 2013 St. Louis Post-Dispatch report.

According to the report, AFT pointed to Rex Sinquefield’s affiliation with the Show-Me Institute, a pro-free market conservative think tank he founded. He is still listed as president of the institute as of April 10, 2015.

Rex Sinquefield is widely regarded as a key influencer of Missouri politics. In October 2014, he contributed $750,000 to former federal prosecutor Catherine Hanaway’s gubernatorial campaign, according to PoliticoMo.

MU spokesman Nathan Hurst said the Sinquefields have been “long-time donors and friends of the university,” but was not able to confirm whether university administrators and advancement staff knew of Rex Sinquefield’s political affiliations. Vice Chancellor for Advancement Tom Hiles was not available for comment.

The long-awaited project

The project to revitalize MU’s music program has been in the works since 2013. The School of Music occupies 31,000 square feet of space, according to previous Maneater report.

Michael O’Brien, the College of Arts and Science dean, told The Maneater in 2013 that the less-than-sufficient facilities have not kept up with years of unprecedented enrollment growth at MU. Between fall 2003 and fall 2013, MU saw a 29 percent increase in its total enrollment.

“The Fine Arts Building is totally inadequate and structurally needs a lot of work,” O’Brien said in 2013. “I can’t imagine anyone is learning there. This is the worst facility in the Midwest.”

O’Brien’s solution to these problems is an ambitious one: A new 100,000-square-foot facility and renovation of the Fine Arts Building. The project’s wishlist includes a new 410-seat recital hall, 100-seat lecture hall that can double as a recital hall, 50 new practice rooms, 41 faculty studios and 30 graduate-student studios, just to list a few features.

The vision has been talked about for nearly two decades, but only picked up speed a few years ago, O’Brien said. However, fundraising remains to be the project’s main obstacle.

The entire project runs a price tag of $74 million, according to the news release. Construction of the new building alone would require more than $37 million.

In August 2013, O’Brien told The Maneater that MU had raised about $3 million at the time. He said the university will make a proposal to the state to match private donations once enough funds have been raised.

MU officials were not able to confirm how much funding has been raised at the time of this reporting. Hurst said the newest contribution is considered to be the “lead donation” that will help advance the project.

“The Sinquefields’ gift will further advance the MU School of Music as a recognized leader in music composition nationally and internationally,” Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin said in the news release. “The Sinquefields have found a meaningful way to advance their passion for musical composition and performance, and the university community thanks them for their generosity and for their leadership in supporting the arts at MU and in Missouri.”

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