Jane Briggs-Bunting inducted into NFOIC’s Open Government Hall of Fame


Photo courtesy of the National Freedom of Information Coalition

Legendary OU professor and open government advocate, the late Jane Briggs-Bunting, was inducted into the National Freedom of Information Coalition’s (NFOIC’s) Open Government Hall of Fame on Sept. 30.

Known as The Oakland Post’s “guardian angel,” the late Jane Briggs-Bunting was inducted into the National Freedom of Information Coalition’s (NFOIC) Open Government Hall of Fame on Sept. 30. Throughout her impressive and inspiring career — including positions as a journalist, professor, author and First Amendment attorney, among others — Jane advocated tirelessly for First Amendment rights, access to information and open government.

The NFOIC works to ensure “state and local governments and public institutions have laws, policies and procedures to facilitate press and public access to information and proceedings,” according to their website. Jane was extremely passionate about access to information throughout her remarkable life and career.

The induction took place during the NFOIC’s virtual FOI summit on Sept. 30. The Hall of Fame recognizes individuals who had long-term contributions to open government — which Jane sure did.

In 2012, Jane founded the Michigan Coalition for Open Government —  which aims to educate citizens on their right to public information and to watchdog their governments.

As a journalist for The Detroit Free Press, Life Magazine and People Magazine throughout the 1970’s and 80’s, Jane covered some of the most talked about stories of the time — including Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance (with the Free Press) and the August 1987 crash of Flight 255 at Detroit Metro Airport.

There was only one survivor of Flight 255: a four-year-old girl. Six months after the crash, Life Magazine wanted Jane to find the girl, which she did, but in accordance with the family’s privacy wishes, Jane made the ethical decision to walk away — in the midst of what would have been one of the biggest stories of her life.

She was inducted into the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame in 2003.

“Jane [was] the most remarkable teacher I’d ever known,” said Garry Gilbert, director of the journalism program at OU. “She was the advisor to the Post for 20 years, where students referred to her as ‘guardian angel’ — [but] she always preferred ‘avenging angel.’ [Jane] used her law degree, her intelligence and her loyalty on behalf of her students. She felt most loyal to her students and particularly to the Post.”

On three separate occasions, Jane sued OU to get access to information she thought the Post needed, and the law required the school give.

“She wanted her students to understand — part of their job as journalists is to get information and open the doors to the information the government has,” said Holly Gilbert, instructor of journalism and chief adviser of journalism and public relations. “Most citizens aren’t inclined to pursue those things, so it’s up to the media to make sure we have access to the things that really are ours. People don’t think of it that way — but these are our reports, our information.”

Senior Editor at The Detroit Free Press and a past student of Jane’s, Ritu Sehgal, mentioned Jane recruited her to be managing editor at the Post and inspired her to attend law school.

“Jane lived what she preached,” Sehgal said. “She taught students to have the courage to stand up for what’s right, to not be afraid of challenging authority and to understand that while doing the right thing sometimes comes at a personal cost, it [is] important to have integrity. To hundreds of students around the country, she was someone from whom they learned life lessons that shaped who they became as they grew older.”