Garry: What qualities make a college professor so unforgettable that former students travel from all over the country to wish them well in retirement?
In the instance of Jane Briggs Bunting, those students say they sensed that she truly cared about them, wanted them to excel in both life and work, and instilled in them the confidence to do so.
Yes, as a journalism teacher, they say, Jane was taxing. Her media law classes — conducted in the Socratic style — were legendarily rigorous.
Yes, Jane terrified some students. Yes, she could be exacting to the point of causing tears.
She made it clear that verified facts mattered most in reporting and writing, but your grammar and spelling better be perfect, too. Partisanship, the appearance of bias, and laziness were not tolerated.
My poorest grade as an undergraduate student came in her media law class, but I admire her like no other. Whatever I’ve accomplished in the field of journalism is a credit to her.
Many Oakland University alums and staff members will recognize Jane as the long-time director of the journalism program and the adviser for the independent campus newspaper, The Oakland Sail, which later became The Oakland Post.
About 40 alums organized by Gail DeGeorge, Sally Tato, Mark Clausen, Ritu Sehgal, Meg O’Brien and others gathered Saturday afternoon in the office of The Post to salute their mentor and friend. The party moved across Walton Boulevard to the Red Ox, where drinks and tales of inspiration and admiration flowed.
Holly and I, as the current advisers to The Post, are immensely aware of the high standards she set during her two decades at its helm. And we consider it an honor to attempt to continue her important work there, as well as in the journalism program at OU.
Holly: In 2004 I broke from journalistic and academic style and wrote a poem about my journey to one of the great friendships of my life – notably, the one wherein I was persuaded to like cats.
The cats were not impressed, but Jane has given me permission to share.
Two cats have taken up residence in my house
and my heart.
Who would have figured,
an avowed feline foe, could become a fanatic in the space of an hour.
Or was it two?
If you knew Jane like I do
and you should, really,
you would know this gift she has for persuading you
to rework that definition of yourself.
The second draft is longer and infinitely more interesting.
It’s never written in ink.
Not if you know Jane.
Gray cat is fond of folding himself
into the pile of #20lb bond papers
always waiting for a grade on my desk.
I’m a teacher.
Who would have figured
I could be capable of coaxing students to reach for their pens
and sometimes even the stars?
She took me to Washington
(the Supreme Court is infinitely more majestic
when viewed in the presence of a First Amendment attorney),
to her farm, to lunch, and under her wing.
She stole my young son’s heart
and earned my husband’s admiration and respect.
By the way,
did I mention the cats?
All this time, I’m pleased to announce,
I labored to avoid impropriety and presumption.
The nature of our alliance is purely professional.
How careful I am to introduce Jane
as my boss
and to define her that way.
I am always proud to do that.
She is the latest and, by far the greatest,
of all the Janes I have admired for their talents and their integrity
from Austen to Pauley to Goodall.
Orange cat prefers the solitude of the basement
But he doesn’t mind quiet company,
which is what I afford him when I go there to study.
Who would have figured I’d be halfway to a master’s degree
midterms, and final exams at this stage of my life?
It was inevitable.
My attempt to confine the realm of our relationship to the classroom
was thwarted long ago.
She, after all, taught me how to rewrite definitions.
A woman so mighty, courageous,
and wickedly brilliant – in the best ways.
She frequently talks way over my head,
into my heart.
Holly Shreve Gilbert, 2004