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Prison Master of Arts Program records

 Collection — Box: 1-10
Identifier: 16-8-1014

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of the administrative records of the Prison Master of Arts Program administered by the State University of New York at Buffalo Department of American Studies. The program existed between 1980 and 1989, although some residual records exist through 1993. The collection contains materials on students in the program, courses offered, and program funding, as well as internal and external correspondence, information on the various correctional facilities with which that the program was affiliated, and other administrative files.


  • 1979-1993


Language of Materials

Collection material in English.

Terms of Access

The Department of American Studies Prison Master of Arts Program Records are open for research with the exception of student records (contained in boxes 5-10), which are restricted.


University records are public records and once fully processed are generally open to research use. Access to student and personnel records is restricted for 80 years from the date of creation. See reference staff for details. No restrictions on access apply to published records. The restriction of university records is subject to compliance with applicable laws, including the Freedom of Information Act. Most papers may be copied in accordance with the archives' usual procedures unless otherwise specified.

Historical Note

The State University of New York at Buffalo Department of American Studies began working with incarcerated students in 1979/1980. The impetus for the development of the program was the interest of one inmate in conducting graduate work. In September 1980, four men at the Auburn Correctional Facility (Auburn, New York) enrolled in a Master of Arts program offered by the Department.

As described by the program's coordinator, the Prison Masters Program was very individualized: The graduate program in American Studies at the [University at Buffalo] provides resources for graduate students to pursue independently designed research projects; no two student programs are exactly the same. Generally, however, the following course sequence--when agreed upon by student and faculty advisor--is common: 2 U.S. Studies courses, 2 Directed Reading and/or Directed Research courses, 2 subprogram or cognate courses, 2 Fieldwork (or 1 Fieldwork and 1 Teaching) courses. The coursework and project are usually completed within two years of full-time study, although less time than that is not unusual.(License to Henderson, July 8, 1981)

The program proceeded for a number of years in an unofficial capacity at Auburn Correctional Facility. Department of American Studies faculty and staff volunteered their time to teach the students in the program, making the six-hour trip to Auburn once a week. The program was recognized, but not funded, by the University. The department perspective is clearly articulated in an article written by the program coordinator: "Our lack of financial resources early made us realize that we could either 'do it'(actually teach and offer the degree) or 'talk about it' to SUNY, SED, and DOCS officials to propose and become a program on paper; we chose to do the teaching, assuming that, once proved as a positive program for human renewal, the official approval would follow" (from "Prison Higher Education" by Jun Licence).

In the mid-late 1980s, the NYS Department of Correction created a statewide graduate plan, which included an MA in Humanities "in the western part of the state". At that point, the department "took the opportunity for recognition and to move closer to Buffalo (Wende CF was a maximum-security facility 20 minutes from campus); we applied for funding to institutionalize/stabilize our program, which would now be a four-night-a-week operation with more curricular structure than the once/week program at Auburn" (Licence, "Prison Higher Education").

After the department failed to procure funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the program failed to take root in Wende Correctional Facility (Alden, New York), the program ended. In a letter dated 1989, administrators of Wende Correctional Facility cut all ties with the Department of American Studies.


4.17 Linear Feet (10 manuscript boxes)


This collection contains the administrative records of the Department of American Studies' Prison Program. The Department of American Studies offered a Master of Arts degree program to incarcerated men at existed Auburn Correctional Facility and Wende Correctional Facility between 1980 and 1989.


This collection is arranged in three broad series and further subdivided into subseries: I. General Administration I.A. General I.B. Correspondence I.C. Courses I.D. New York State Department of Corrections I.E. Grant Applications to the National Endowment for Humanities II. Prisons II.A. Attica Correctional Facility II.B. Auburn Correctional Facility II.C. Wende Correctional Facility III. Students. Each series is arranged alphabetically.

Acquisition Information

Accession 00-xxx, a group of materials from the main office of the Department of American Studies, was received by the Archives in May 2000. The materials pertaining to the Department’s Prison Master of Arts Program were separated and processed as 16/8/1014 in early 2005. As of June 2005 the remainder of accession 00-xxx remains unprocessed.

Accruals and Additions

No further accruals are expected to this collection.

Related Resources

16/8/00-2 Concrete Garden

Separated Materials

Other Department of American Studies materials originally accessioned with the materials in this collection remain under accession number 00-xxx.

Processing Information

Processed by Karen Walton Morse with Sheryl Saxby, June 2005.


Finding Aid for the Prison Master of Arts Program records
Finding aid prepared by State University of New York at Buffalo, American Studies Dept.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the University Archives Repository

420 Capen Hall
Buffalo New York 14260-1674 US
716-645-3714 (Fax)