State funding is crucial to the upkeep and operating of Oakland University, but there was a brief time in the fall of 1980 when that funding was threatened by a tax change known as the Tisch Amendment.
The Tisch Amendment was a tax proposal that presented major tax cuts across the board in the state of Michigan, and would require any change in state tax to have a voter approval rate of 60 percent in special referendums. This would include licenses, permits, and most importantly, changes in tuition.
Predictions were that tuition would double or triple if the amendment passed, on top of financial aid programs being heavily reduced or even eliminated. OU specifically would lose all of its funding from the state, which was around $20 million at the time.
“Our analysis leads to the unavoidable conclusion that the Tisch Amendment, if adopted, would be devastating for all of Michigan’s colleges and universities,” said a joint statement released from the Presidents’ Council of State Colleges and Universities and the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Michigan.
Oakland University Student Congress voted in a meeting in October, 1980, that the OU Board of Trustees take an official stance against the Tisch Amendment. The vote was made after a presentation by Edward Huebel, a political science professor at the university.
“I see a black cloud on the horizon as I see the possibility of the Tisch Amendment passing and what it would do to Oakland University,” he said.
There was only one senator in favor of the Tisch Amendment at the Student Congress meeting, and similarly there was one supporter of the amendment on the Board of Trustees. This supporter was Richard Headlee, the newly appointed chairman of the BOT.
“We’ve got a whole new generation of people growing in this state, but we’ve got no job opportunities in Michigan,” Headlee said.
He later went on to say that the “minor flaws” that the amendment had were fine compared to letting the government continue to spend high amounts of money.
Headlee also added that he was against OU taking a position against the proposal, saying that it was inappropriate for a university to take a stance on political matters. Despite Headlee’s dissent, the Board of Trustees approved a resolution to oppose the amendment with a vote of five to one.
Headlee’s outspoken position against the amendment soon caught up with him, with people calling upon the then Governor of Michigan William Milliken to demand Headlee’s resignation. Governor Milliken later came out saying that the appointment of Headlee was a major mistake.
This call for resignation not only involved the Tisch support, but also the Board of Trustees’ use of secret meetings and private interviews in the search for OU’s new president, which the Attorney General’s office had filed suit against the board for.
Ultimately, the Tisch proposal was defeated by voters in November, and Headlee stayed on as the head of the Board of Trustees.