New York State Modern Political Archive
Collection ID: apap055

Malcolm Willison Papers, 1958-1997

Collection description


Willison, Malcolm
This collection details the social activism of Malcolm Willison in New York State's Capital Region. As an active board member of several local groups, his papers contain minutes, financial statements and budgets, programming ideas, brochures, planning notes, articles and reports, and clippings that detail the evolution of the various organizations contained in the collection. Organizational newsletters and event flyers, course and conference information planned by Willison in his capacity on executive boards, and vast amounts of correspondence about any number of events and issues are also part of the scope of the collection.
14.9 cubic ft.
English and English
Preferred citation:
Preferred citation for this material is as follows: and Identification of specific item, series, box, folder, Malcolm Willison Papers, 1958-1997. M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University at Albany, State University of New York (hereafter referred to as [shortened name]).

Access and Use

Conditions Governing Access:

Access to this record group is unrestricted.

Terms Of Use:

The researcher assumes full responsibility for conforming with the laws of copyright. Whenever possible, the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives will provide information about copyright owners and other restrictions, but the legal determination ultimately rests with the researcher. Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be discussed with the Head of Special Collections and Archives.


Scope and Content:

Series 1 consists of information tracing the study circle movement from 1975 through 1991. "A Study Circle is a learner centered, non-formal method of education for adults. Five to twenty people with a common interest join together to study a particular topic" in order to learn from each other. A trained facilitator guides them. ["Study Circles: Everything You've Always Wanted to Know". Series 1, Box 1, Folder 20]. The facilitator is not a teacher, but a guide that leads the circle members in getting to know each other and setting up a schedule. Study circles began in the late nineteenth century, just as the industrial revolution was taking hold. The Chautauqua Institution near Buffalo, New York was an influential organization in educational methods that created the initial model for study circle curriculums. [To learn more about study circles, consult some of the sources in Series 1, Box 1, Folder 20 including: "Study Circles: Everything You've Always Wanted to Know"; "The History of the Study Circles: It Began in 19th Century U.S.A." Norman D. Kurland, "The Scandinavian Study Circle: An Idea for the U.S.? The College Board Review, No. 114 (Winter: 1979-80), 20-25]. The series contains historical information about the Study Circle Consortium of New York State including meeting minutes, correspondence, pamphlets and membership information. Included are various published articles directly related to the study circle initiative both in Sweden and the US, along with files about various individual study circles including the circles on nuclear disarmament, parenting, child abuse, the environment, the Domestic Policy Association, quality circles, and others.

In addition, Series 2 contains the administrative papers of the group Clergy and Laity Concerned (CALC) (1974-1988), a national interfaith, interracial network with more than 20,000 supporters and more than 40 chapters throughout the United States. First formed in 1965, CALC's purpose was to mobilize opposition to US intervention in Vietnam and the other countries of Southeast Asia. As the years passed, CALC continued to mobilize against controversial issues such as nuclear warfare, intervention in Central America and other troubled areas, and environmental exploitation. Series 2 consists of CALC's minutes, membership information, and correspondence. However, the majority of files are specific to the issues that CALC deemed important, including the environment, politics, healthcare, peace and international relations. Various news clippings and initiatives on each of these topics shed light into CALC's overall goals and ideals. CALC also lent its support to the Schenectady Peace and Justice Center (SPJC). An offshoot of CALC, the series contains minutes and correspondence about the kind of work the Center conducted.

Series 3 contains the materials used by Willison to teach Siena College courses in 1991 and 1992. In the early 1990s, Malcolm Willison was hired to teach courses at Siena College in Loudonville, New York, a suburb of Albany. The courses were co-taught with two or three other teachers and fell under the auspices of Interdisciplinary Studies. The courses were Environmental Policy, Peace Studies, and Regional and Local Environmental Issues. More specific focus was put on the Hudson River, Love Canal, global warming, the Adirondacks, waste disposal, toxics, environmental racism, and how environmental issues effect labor issues. The series includes several newsletters concerning environmental issues in the region. There is no one newsletter with a substantial consecutive run in the collection. However, the issues of a particular organization or stand-alone newsletter do address the specific foci listed above. Some of the newsletters included are:The Activist (Democratic Socialists of America), Albany Report (Environmental Planning Lobby), APEC News (Albany Peace and Energy Council Newsletter), Connections, The Dovetail (The Buffalo Greens Newsletter), Grassroots Economic Organizing Newsletter, Knolls Action Project, LI Action (The Progressive Coalition of Long Island), NYPIRG Agenda, New Visions, NYCAP News (New York Coalition Against Pesticides), The Pendulum, Popline, Preserve Appalachian Wilderness (PAW), Social Justice Center News, South End Scene, The Stockade Spy, and United Tenants of Albany News.

Series 4 is concerned with the issue of economic conversion. "Economic Conversion is the political, economic and technical process for assuring an orderly transformation of economic resources now being used for military-oriented purposes to alternative civilian uses". [Jonathan Feldman, "An Introduction to Economic Conversion". National Commission for Economic Conversion and Disarmament, May 1988. Series 4, Box 3, Folder 28]. Proponents of economic conversion argued that "economic conversion has a crucial role in both the revitalization of US industrial competitiveness and the rebuilding of the nation's security". [Lloyd J. Dumas and Suzanne Gordon, "Economic Conversion: An Exchange".Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, June/July 1986. Series 4, Box 3, Folder 21]. That is, that long-term military spending was a major part of the problem with the US economy. Opponents argued that economic conversion was utopian. It had been attempted many times, failing each time.

In reference to this collection, Malcolm Willison was a supporter of economic conversion. Many supporters linked conversion to the peace movement, since conversion meant phasing out military manufacturing plants and closing down military bases. Capital Region advocates for conversion set out to prove that conversion could work, ideally without the loss of jobs. As such, the Capital- Berkshire Area Economic Conversion Study Group and Task Force (CABEC) was founded in 1986 as a by-product of the Conference on Economic Conversion held at Siena College in April 1986 and sponsored by Siena's Peace Studies Program. [Malcolm Willison, "Economic Conversion Conference to Be Held". Series 4, Box 1, Folder 22]. The goal of the organization was to "bring together people from many different industries and parts of the region who seek ways to save and create jobs in Berkshire County and the New York Capital District by using the region's resources and creativity to reduce dependence on uncertain future corporate plans and government budgets, especially for military production". ["Organizer of Connecticut Reindustrialization to Speak in Albany", Press Release, November 24, 1987. Series 4, Box 1, Folder 13]. The collection contains information about the organization and its activities from 1986-1992.

The organization's most notable events included hosting two local conferences and bringing to the area two speakers who promoted economic conversion. On January 10, 1987, CABEC hosted Minnesota Representative Karen Clark who spoke on Industrial Crisis and Conversion. [Flyer, Series 4, Box 1, Folder 13]. Clark put together a coalition of "people from labor unions, community groups, agriculture, academia, women's groups, government and business", to come up with legislation that would make economic conversion possible. ["Summary of Roundtable", January 10, 1987, Box 1, Folder 13]. On December 7, 1987, CABEC hosted the Reverend Kevin Bean, associate pastor of the Episcopal Church in Darien, the chair of the Economic Conversion Task Force of Connecticut, Co-chair of the Connecticut General Assembly's Task Force on Manufacturing, and Chair of the Subcommittee on Diversification. His talk, entitled "Take These Jobs and Save Them!" focused on how to organize strategies for diversification and economic conversion. [Flyer, Box 1, Folder 13]. Reverend Bean discussed the economic issues affecting Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts and the new conversion legislation passed in Connecticut in 1987.

On April 22, 1989, CABEC hosted the North East Economic Diversification Conference: Restructuring for Tomorrow (NEED) at the Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, MA. The purpose of the conference was to "examine the prospect of a less militarized economy from perspectives of the labor movement, manufacturers, national-security strategists, municipalities and states, educators, the religious community and others". [Press Release, March 28, 1989, Series 4, Box 1, Folder 22]. The keynote speaker was John Kenneth Galbraith, a Harvard University economist who spoke on "The World Systems in Transition: Why We Must Plan for Economic Conversion". Columbia University Professor Emeritus Seymour Melman also spoke at the conference. [Press Release, March 28, 1989, Series 4, Box 1, Folder 22]. On November 18, 1989, CABEC and the World Federalists Organization sponsored another conference, this time in the Capital District. The "Northeastern New York Economic Diversification Conference: Securing Jobs Ahead" was held at Siena College. The goal of the conference was "to explore the question of how economic diversification might benefit Northeastern New York". ["A Conference on Economic Diversification, November 18, 1989". Series 4, Box 1, Folder 25]. Inspired by a 1988 Seymour Melman speech, Dr. Clifford Tepper, a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility and a partner at the Allergy Associates of Schenectady, P.C., was largely responsible for making this event happen and putting a steering committee together. The conference committee decided to broaden the conference's focus by entitling it economic diversification rather than economic conversion. The keynote speakers were Seymour Melman and Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry's ice cream. ["Securing Jobs Ahead", Conference program booklet, Series 4, Box 1, Folder 25].

Series 4 also contains information on several other local groups that supported economic conversion. Many of the groups fell under the umbrella of the Social Justice Center, including the Albany Peace and Energy Council (APEC), Democratic Socialists of America, Knolls Action Project, Pledge of Resistance, Society for US-Soviet Friendship, and SANE/FREEZE. [For a description of each organization see the Social Justice Center brochure in Series 4, Box 2, Folder 28]. Other organizations and areas of concern found in Series 4 include the Center for Economic Conversion, Connecticut's economic conversion model, defense spending and conversion, economic conversion and disarmament, Economic Conversion Coalitions of the Capital Region and the Upper Hudson, economic development, energy, the environment, General Electric, the Labor-Religion Coalition, economic conversion models in Massachusetts and Minnesota, nuclear arms, peace initiatives, and the Watervliet Arsenal. There are also several news clippings and reports that help shed light on the issues surrounding economic conversion.

Series 5 consists of the records of Lantz-Willison and Associates from 1961 through 1985. Lantz-Willison Associates (L-W Associates) was founded in 1975 by Charles Lantz and Malcolm Willison as a social science consulting firm in Troy, New York. The agency's mission was "to undertake research and evaluation in social policy-making, with particular emphasis on social impact assessment and on citizen participation". [Letter to the Research Program of the Citizen Involvement Network in Washington, DC from Lantz and Willison, Series 5, Box 1, Folder 6]. Willison's partner, Charles C. Lantz, was born on May 1, 1931 in Glendale, California and served in the US Army from 1953 to 1955. He received an M.A. in Anthropology from UCLA in 1958 and a Ph.D. in Anthropology, specializing in urban and political anthropology, from Michigan State University in 1971. ["Personal Qualifications Statement", and Curriculum Vitae, November 15, 1971 Charles Chapman Lantz, Series 5, Box 1, Folder 6]. Prior to founding L-W Associates, he was on the faculty of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. [Charles C. Lantz biography, Series 5, Box 1, Folder 6]

L-W Associates provided consultation on issues involving Asia, education, housing, nuclear arms, PCBs, politics, race, social indicators, solid waste, star wars, transportation, and urbanization. The firm was also involved with the Disarming Images Study Circle, the Law, Order and Justice Center (LOJ), Reform Study Group, RPI and Union College. The Disarming Images Study Circle was started in 1985 and focused on issues like federal taxes, welfare, and the missile defense program known as Star Wars. Citizens for Law, Order and Justice was incorporated in 1973 and the LOJ Center opened in 1974 in Schenectady, New York. However, the organization traces its beginnings to 1971, "when a group of concerned citizens started observing current practices within the local criminal justice system". ["Law, Order and Justice Center" Informational Pamphlet. Series 5, Box 1, Folder 7]. Some of the Center's programs include the Ex-Offender Outreach Program, the Restitution/Community Service Program, the Lewi Tonks Revolving Bail Fund, the Pre-Trial Diversion Program, and the Community Dispute Settlement Program. The Reform Study Group of Schenectady County existed in 1974, in order to articulate basic national, state and local issues in the community. ["The Reform Study Group of Schenectady County Platform", May 22, 1974. Series 5, Box 1, Folder 20]. The group formed subcommittees around economic issues; politics and representative government; law, order and justice; social services; and war, peace and foreign affairs. [. "Reform Study Group Agenda", May 8, 1974, Series 5, Box 1, Folder 20 (See pink sheet)].

Series 6, Economic and Social Action in the Capital Region (1958-1997), is an assortment of information about various organizations and activities in the Capital Region. The economic and social activities in this series concern issues of poverty, nuclear disarmament, peace, economic conversion and neighborhood improvement. Some of the issues and/or groups are discussed in more detail in the series. There is some rich information and documentation about economic and social action groups in the region, such as the Neighborhood Action Coalition of Troy (N-ACT), The Capital District Transportation Committee (CDTC), The Clean Air/Transportation Committee (CA/T), Schenectady 2000, and the Saratoga Peace Alliance (SPA). N-ACT, founded in 1975, was originally set up to help residents of the river wards where the bulk of the lower-income people live in Troy. [Letter from Marion Hernberg, Executive Director of N-ACT to Mrs. Elissa Prout of the Robison Foundation, July 17, 1985. Series 6, Box 2, Folder 10]. N-ACT was a coalition of 10 neighborhoods and tenants organizations that sought to identify and solve problems affecting Troy. [N-ACT Brochure. Series 6, Box 2, Folder 10]. The organization sought funding for initiatives that included the Troy Rehabilitation and Improvement Program, Hard-to-House Training Project, Community Development Credit Union, and Community Gardens Project. CDTC was initiated in 1965 as a cooperative organization of governmental transportation agencies. The Committee was responsible for the development and maintenance of the "Comprehensive Regional Transportation Plan for Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady Counties". The committee's primary role was to identify transportation needs and schedule improvements based on a 5-year and 20-year plan. ["What is CDTC?" Series 6, Box 1, Folder 8].

CA/T was founded in 1980 as a project of the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to operate a "demonstration program involving citizens in the related regional problems of air quality, transportation strategies and development policies". CA/T was made up of capital district residents concerned with the regional planning needs of the region, especially as it dealt with transportation, land use, and unpolluted air. The CA/T served as a watchdog of government regional planning agencies. They were also concerned with the proper implementation of the Clean Air Act to avoid future pollution and environmental distress. [CA/T mailing about a meeting. Series 6, Box 1, Folder 16]. SPA was formed in 1982 to support "individual and group advocacy in behalf of nuclear disarmament". [SPA flyer (blue), Series 6, Box 3, Folder 21]. SPA projects included SPAN (The Saratoga Peace Action Newsletter), educational outreach programs such as commemorations of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, nuclear freeze petitions, draft counseling services, a monthly Peace Breakfast, the Civil Defense Olympics and a study group on peace and disarmament issues.

Series 7 contains some of the records of the Employee Ownership Project (EOP) from 1982-1996. Founded in November of 1987 by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, the Employee Ownership Project of the Albany Region, Inc. was founded to:

- Promote a broad public understanding for employee-owned enterprises and economic democracy, and the advantages they bring to the community.

- Explore the potential for conversion of existing businesses to employee ownership and for the creation of viable employee-owned enterprises.

- Create a network of business, labor, religious, financial and social service organizations in order to monitor and assist efforts in the process of conversion to employee ownership.

- Provide ongoing technical assistance to existing employee owned enterprises.

- Promote and facilitate cooperation among employee-owned enterprises in the region and with similar efforts throughout the country. [See EOP brochure. Series 7, Box 1, Folder 2].

EOP was a non-profit, tax-exempt organization with some additional support from Siena College. The structure of the group consisted of a board and an advisory council. EOP took on initiatives such as Employee Stock Ownership Programs and cooperatives. In this capacity, EOP worked closely with the Industrial Cooperative Association (ICA).

ICA was organized in 1978 "to save and create jobs through the promotion of employee-owned companies in low-income, minority, and blue-collar communities". [The ICA. Series 7, Box 2, Folder 4]. Under the auspices of the ICA, EOP explored initiatives that included revolving loan funds and The Working Knowledge Fund, an educational project that allowed employees to put their own experience to use and learn from other workers' experiences. [The ICA - The Working Knowledge Program. Series 7, Box 2, Folder 9]. Other services offered by EOP included technical assistance to employees seeking to buy out existing businesses; assisting groups with development strategies; workforce education; and conducting workshops and seminars about worker ownership. [EOP brochure].

Series 8, Personal Papers includes material related to the Willison home and correspondence.

Biographical / Historical:

Malcolm R. Willison was born on August 31, 1930. Willison received a Bachelor's Degree in history from Swarthmore College and an M.A. in Sociology and Southeast Asian Studies from Cornell University. He is ABD in the Sociology Ph.D. program, also at Cornell. He was active throughout most of his life in New York's Capital Region in several left-leaning groups that focused on study circles, the environment, peace, economic conversion, and social responsibility and accountability. Willison was also part owner of Lantz-Willison Associates, a consulting agency which worked for several of the non-profit organizations Willison was involved with. [Some material in this biographical sketch comes from Malcolm Willison's Resume, Series 5, Box 1, Folder 6].

Malcolm Willison was an extremely active member of the Capital District community. He was involved in the organization of study circles and the founding of the Study Circle Consortium in 1975. He was also one of the founders and board members of the Capital District Chapter of Clergy and Laity Concerned (CALC), a national interfaith organization formed in 1965. At the same time that Willison was active in the community, he taught as an assistant and visiting professor at Union College, Vassar College, Princeton University, the College of William and Mary, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and as an adjunct in Siena College's Peace Studies Program. Within Siena College, Willison taught environmental policy, peace studies and regional and local environmental issues. He also organized conferences and invited noted speakers to address the issues he was passionate about.

Economic conversion was one of Willison's pet projects. He linked conversion to the peace movement by supporting the closing of military weapons plants and bases. In 1986, he was involved in hosting the Conference on Economic Conversion, sponsored by Siena's Peace Studies Program. The Capital-Berkshire Area Economic Conversion Study Group and Task Force (CABEC) was founded by Willison and others as a by-product of the conference. Several conferences were held thereafter. In linking peace and conversion, Willison illustrated his passion for peace and social justice. From 1958 to 1997, Willison was involved either as a committee member, organizer or board member of several area groups, including the Neighborhood Action Coalition of Troy (N-ACT), the Capital District Transportation Committee (CDTC), the Clean Air/Transportation Committee (CA/T), Schenectady 2000, and the Saratoga Peace Alliance (SPA) to name a few. From 1982 to 1996, he poured much of his energy into the Employee Ownership Project (EOP), an economic development program that promoted employee-owned enterprises, economic conversion, and networking. Though not a part of the collection, Willison was also involved in reproductive rights through his work as a board member of Planned Parenthood of Schenectady and Associated Counties. Further information about these organizations and projects can be found in the Scope note. The community work that Willison did was greatly appreciated by his colleagues and the community, as is evident in the correspondence files in the collection.

Acquisition information:

All items in this manuscript group were donated to the University Libraries, M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, by Malcolm R. Willison in July 1997, August 1998, and August 2006. The accession received in 2006 is unprocessed and not yet included in the description and in this finding aid.

Processing information:

Processed in 2001 by Rosann Santos, 2001.

Collection inventory



Search within this collection

Access to this record group is unrestricted.
Terms of Access:
The researcher assumes full responsibility for conforming with the laws of copyright. Whenever possible, the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives will provide information about copyright owners and other restrictions, but the legal determination ultimately rests with the researcher. Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be discussed with the Head of Special Collections and Archives.
Preferred citation:
Preferred citation for this material is as follows: and Identification of specific item, series, box, folder, Malcolm Willison Papers, 1958-1997. M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University at Albany, State University of New York (hereafter referred to as [shortened name]).