journalism professor, Oakland University
On more occasions than anyone could bear to count, Jane L. Briggs-Bunting has stood firm in defense of the First Amendment.
Sometimes she stands against the very university that pays her bills, suing over closed meetings, exorbitant fees for public records and other tactics that prevent the release of public information.
Often, she gives free advice to high school advisers and students dealing with overzealous administrators who think censoring is the best method for teaching journalism.
But Briggs-Bunting doesn’t stand alone. Since 1978, she’s taught Oakland University journalism students to share her passion.
“On more than one occasion, Jane has said she would put her life on the line for the First Amendment,” writes Oakland Post Editor in Chief Ann Zaniewski and Assistant News Editor Jennifer J. Decker. “She instills that commitment in all her students, and everyone leaving Oakland’s journalism program understands their responsibility to uphold and take full advantage of txxxhe freedom of the press.”
As adviser of The Oakland Post, and previously the Oakland Sail, Briggs-Bunting pushes her student journalists to uncover and report on violations of the Open Meetings Act. A media law attorney and former reporter, she has never been afraid to file a lawsuit on her campus newspaper’s behalf.
And as a professor and director of the university’s journalism program, she’s a tenacious teacher of media law principles. An author of three media law books, her classes are notorious — both in their difficulty and in the expertise they give students.
“She taught us that calling a murderer a murderer was only fair after he was convicted of the crime. She taught us that we had the right to ask why a city council was closing a meeting and the right to question a police department’s decision to not hand over a report,” writes Detroit Free Press reporter Sally Tato, Flint Journal reporter Robert Snell and Toledo Blade reporter Erica Blake, all members of the 1996 Oakland Post staff.
Among her many projects, Briggs-Bunting created and directed the Public Information Project, a two-year effort by her students to audit the public records of every community, law enforcement agency and school district in Oakland and Macomb counties. She’s also created the Bunting and Briggs Freedom of Press Award, which grants two $1,000 scholarships yearly to honor student efforts to protect the First Amendment.
Her academic and professional accolades span 22 pages. But nearly every honor is connected to her passion for teaching young journalists about the First Amendment.
“The students called her their guardian angel,” writes Utica High School publications adviser Gloria Grove Olman, a Hall of Fame member. “She later told me she would have preferred ‘avenging angel,’ for she tenaciously fights for the First Amendment rights of journalists at all levels.”