Dr. Jeffrey Kaplan Wins Dean’s Diversity Award for UNCG Prison Education Program

Posted on October 05, 2023

Dr Jeff Kaplan lectures in front of whiteboard with writing

The College of Arts & Sciences (CAS) at UNC Greensboro is pleased to share that Dr. Jeffrey Kaplan, a UNCG professor of philosophy, has received the 2023 CAS Dean’s Award for the Promotion of Diversity and Inclusiveness, for his project, “The UNCG Prison Education Program.”  

Launched in September 2022, the UNCG Prison Education Program has set up a college education program at Butner Federal Prison in North Carolina.  

“It is hard to think of a population with less access to academic programming than incarcerated people,” said Kaplan, who explains that the program’s central aim is to diversify those who have access to educational opportunities, reflecting a key mission of the University.  

Getting Started

Professor Kaplan stands with male inmate wearing blue prison outfit
Dr. Jeffrey Kaplan speaks with an inmate at the San Quentin Prison in California.

This is not Kaplan’s first experience with bringing college-level education to inmates. Previously, he spent four years teaching college courses at San Quentin State Prison in California, where he witnessed the positive impacts of such a program, including helping to reduce recidivism.  

Yet when he moved to Greensboro, Kaplan faced many obstacles in setting up a similar program in North Carolina.  

“I called every prison anywhere near Greensboro, and no one would return my calls,” he said. 

Eventually, he was connected to a high-ranking correctional officer at Butner Federal Prison who helped Kaplan through many months of bureaucratic hurdles before the program’s first academic talk could take place. 

Making an Impact

After years of work behind the scenes, the UNCG Prison Education Program has just completed its first year in operation. During that time, UNCG professors delivered a variety of 40-minute talks for inmates, each followed by a 20-minute question-and-answer session. Kaplan himself has spoken on the topic, “What is Philosophy?” Other UNCG professors have delivered talks on climate change, ancient Olympic games, and more.  

One of those professors was Dr. Anne Parsons of the UNCG History Department. Parsons delivered the talk, “Roots of Resistance: The Tuchyn Story,” on the history of Jewish resistance to the Holocaust in a town in Ukraine.

Parsons reflected on her experience at the prison: “I passed multiple security checks, barbed wire fencing, and cement walls and entered the bleak recreation center. I immediately noticed large buckets scattered across the floor. It was set to rain that night, and the roof has multiple, longstanding leaks that the prison cannot afford to fix. Two million people live in poor conditions like this in the United States’ prisons and jails, out of sight and out of mind.”

Despite the conditions, the participants in Parson’s lecture were diverse and engaged. Their questions easily filled the 20-minute Q&A session.

“We talked about antisemitism, critical race theory, and ways to prevent genocide more broadly, and the students appeared eager for more of this kind of programming,” said Parsons.

“Two million people live in poor conditions like this in the United States’ prisons and jails, out of sight and out of mind.

– Dr. Anne Parsons, UNCG History professor and a presenter in the UNCG Prison Education Program

What’s Next?

Starting November 2, UNCG students will also have the opportunity to get involved in the UNCG Prison Education Program. The program has partnered with the Lloyd International Honors College to enable students to participate in writing workshops with incarcerated men at Butner. The first workshop will be led by Professor Joe Dunne from the UNCG English Department. 

Kaplan’s eventual ambition for the program is to offer for-credit college courses that count toward a degree. But as the obstacles thus far have shown, it will not be an easy road.  

Inmate wearing graduation cap and gown, poses with Professor Kaplan
Kaplan (right) with an inmate he taught at San Quentin Prison.

“There is no institutional incentive within the structure of prison administration to allow for such a program,” said Kaplan. “So wherever you see a program like this, it is really due to the prison administrators and correctional officers going above and beyond.”

Receiving this year’s CAS Dean’s Award for the Promotion of Diversity and Inclusiveness helps. Each year, the College of Arts & Sciences presents this award to an individual, group, or program that exemplifies a commitment to enhancing diversity in education. 

The $1,000 financial award will go toward expansion of the program, which is otherwise unfunded. The Diversity Award also helps bring attention to the UNCG Prison Education Program during a crucial growth point.

“I am thrilled to offer our Diversity Award to such a deserving program,” said Dean John Z. Kiss. “The UNCG Prison Education Program exemplifies best practices in diversity and inclusion and is poised to improve access to education not only at UNCG, but in our region as well.” 

Story by Elizabeth Keri, College of Arts & Sciences

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