Prison Master of Arts Program records
Language of Materials
Terms of Access
4.17 Linear Feet (10 manuscript boxes)
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.
Accruals and Additions
- University Archives (Repository, Organization)
- 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
- Language of description