Graduate Program

Master of Arts in Liberal Studies

The Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) is an interdisciplinary graduate program in the liberal arts and sciences. An alternative to the highly specialized course of study characteristic of most graduate programs, the MALS degree does not provide a specific vocational or professional orientation. It is intended for those students who wish to pursue interdisciplinary graduate work in a flexible, individually designed program. The MALS program therefore attracts a diverse group of bright and intellectually curious students of varied interests, ages, and backgrounds who are motivated to learn and who wish to pursue learning with similarly motivated students and faculty members. In short, the most fundamental and abiding characteristic of students in the program is the desire to learn for its own sake.

Course Offerings

The MALS curriculum incorporates a broad spectrum of courses in liberal studies: humanities, history and the social sciences, the arts, mathematics, and the sciences. Graduate seminars are offered in the evenings and summers. These seminars frequently are interdisciplinary in nature and are offered by faculty members from a variety of departments. Normally there are three half-unit evening seminars each fall and spring semester, and one full-unit course, along with an additional half-unit evening seminar, in the summer term. With the exception of the accelerated summer term, graduate seminars meet one and one-half hours once a week for the duration of the semester. MALS students also may select from 300- and 400-level undergraduate courses, with permission from the instructor, for their degree program, or from 100- and 200- level courses for undergraduate background credit and prerequisites, and thus are eligible to take courses in any of the 24 academic departments at Reed.

On an exceptional basis, a student may undertake an independent study class. The course must be approved in advance by the Committee on Graduate Studies, which will take into consideration the individual student’s personal and educational circumstances. A proposal for the course, signed by the instructor, must be submitted to the committee no later than the last day of classes of the preceding term.

MALS courses are conducted as discussion groups and generally enroll between 6 and 12 students, with a maximum enrollment of 15.  At least one MALS seminar each term is designated as a liberal studies core course. These courses are explicitly interdisciplinary and writing intensive. We strongly encourage new students to take at least one liberal studies core course within the first year of the MALS program, preferably before they apply for formal candidacy (see “MALS Student Admission”). Liberal studies core courses scheduled for the 2007-08 academic year are: “The Bloomsbury Group” in fall, “Ancient and Modern Praise Poetry” in spring, and “Shakespeare and Film” in the summer.

Course Load and Progression

The program does not specify a minimum number of courses required in a field of principal interest. The student’s total program, however, must lead to a clearly defined objective and must be approved by the Committee on Graduate Studies when the student applies for admission to candidacy. After completing two Reed courses, all students must make application for formal candidacy to the program. A faculty adviser and the director of the MALS program will assist students in designing a course of study that meets their particular intellectual interests while providing a broad academic base.

Most MALS students attend part time; full-time status requires concurrent enrollment in both undergraduate courses and graduate seminars. Full-time enrollment in a regular semester is three units; half-time enrollment is one and one-half units. In the accelerated summer term, one unit is considered half-time enrollment. While most students take three to six years to finish, it is possible to complete the program in two years. The yearly course load for graduate students generally ranges from one to five academic units. There is no specified minimum or maximum course load, however, and students are not required to be enrolled each consecutive term. With this flexibility in progression, however, is the expectation that all MALS students meet the following completion time frames:

  1. If a student does not take a course within three consecutive semesters, the student will be removed from the program unless the student submits a petition to the Committee on Graduate Studies by the last day of classes of the third term of non-enrollment. The petition for completion must include enrollment in at least one of the next two semesters, a statement of continued interest, and a proposed time frame for completing the program. A student who does not meet these criteria and who wishes to continue study at a later date must reapply for admission to the program.
  2. Students are expected to complete the MALS degree within six years of acceptance as a degree candidate. Petitions to extend the time for degree completion must be approved in advance by the Committee on Graduate Studies.

Degree Requirements

The MALS degree requires the completion of nine units of coursework. Each student designs an individual program, incorporating the following degree requirements:

  1. Eight units of courses.
    A minimum of four of the eight units must be in Reed courses at the graduate level (numbered 500 or higher).
    No more than four units from 300- and 400-level undergraduate courses may be applied to the eight required units.
  2. A one-unit degree paper.
  3. No more than five units (including the degree paper) in any one department or division, or in liberal studies core courses, may be applied to the total nine units required for graduation.

Exceptions to the above requirements must be approved in advance by the Committee on Graduate Studies. Petitions should be addressed to the committee no later than the first day of classes of the term before the degree paper.

Degree Paper

A required final project, the degree paper is a one-unit, one-semester study of a specific topic that should emerge out of the student’s courses and critical studies. The experience of writing the degree paper is intended to allow the student to investigate a particular topic in depth and to present a conclusion in the scholarly manner appropriate to the field. A description of the degree paper topic with an outline and a bibliography must be approved in advance by the Committee on Graduate Studies. Candidates should submit the degree paper proposal to the MALS office according to the following schedule: proposals for fall papers are due the last day of classes of the preceding spring term; proposals for spring papers are due the last day of class of the preceding fall term; proposals for summer papers are due April 1 of the preceding spring term.

The degree paper is due on the date specified in the academic calendar for senior thesis submission. The schedule and deadlines for summer degree papers is determined by the registrar and the MALS program director. The degree paper requirement is completed with a two-hour oral defense of the project. The committee of examiners typically includes the student’s paper adviser, one member of the Committee on Graduate Studies, and at least one but usually two other faculty members. The committee should represent at least two different academic divisions of the college. The Reed library houses copies of all degree papers and undergraduate senior theses, easily accessible for both reference and borrowing.

When necessary, MALS students may take a three-day extension for submitting the paper, provided a $50 late fee is paid and the bound copies are submitted to the library by the regular deadline.


MALS students are expected to perform at the graduate level and to earn grades of B- or better in all their classes. Work completed at a level below B- is considered unsatisfactory. The grade of C is allowed for students who complete a course with credit, but whose work was unsatisfactory. The F grade designates failure. Students are eligible for an incomplete grade with the same constraints applicable to undergraduate students. For the degree paper, B- is the lowest passing grade.

Transfer Credit

A maximum of two of the nine units required for the degree may be satisfied by transfer credit. Transfer credit may not be used to meet the minimum requirement of four units of Reed courses at the graduate level. All work submitted for transfer must be approved by the registrar and by the Committee on Graduate Studies, preferably before enrollment in the transfer course. The coursework must be from a regionally accredited college or university, may not be applied to another degree, and should represent B or better work. Courses taken as a postbaccalaureate student should be comparable to upper-level undergraduate or graduate coursework offered at Reed. Normally, all courses approved for transfer must have been completed within the past five years.


Graduate courses are open only to students who have been admitted to the MALS program. They are not open to general auditors or to undergraduate Reed students. Students currently enrolled in the MALS program are eligible to audit an undergraduate course and should follow the guidelines outlined in the section on auditors in the admission section of this catalog (under “Special Admission Groups”).

The Committee on Graduate Studies will consider applications from Reed MALS graduates who wish to audit a specific graduate course. Graduates must submit an audit application to the committee no later than 30 days before the start of the desired term. The committee will consider the auditor’s statement of interest, instructor approval, and space availability in granting admission to the course. MALS graduates may audit no more than one course per year.

Special Students

Those with an undergraduate degree who wish to sample a graduate course one time only may initiate a special student application to take one specific seminar. Credit for the seminar may be applied to the MALS degree requirements if the student enters the degree-seeking program within five years of taking the course.


Reed welcomes applications from individuals who wish to pursue interdisciplinary graduate work in a program that is both flexible and rigorous. Those applicants are accepted who, in the view of the Committee on Graduate Studies, are most likely to become successful members of and contribute positively to the MALS community. Admission decisions are based on many integrated factors. We recognize that qualities of character—in particular, motivation, intellectual curiosity, and openness to constructive criticism—are important considerations in the selection process, beyond a demonstrated commitment to academic excellence.

Students may apply to enter in the fall, spring, or summer terms. Initial, provisional admission to the MALS program requires submission of the following items: a completed application form, official transcripts of all undergraduate and postbaccalaureate work, evidence of completion of a bachelor’s degree, two letters of recommendation, a $60 non-refundable application fee, and an interview with the MALS director and a faculty member of the Committee on Graduate Studies. Applicants should submit all required materials by the following deadlines: no later than July 1 for fall entrance; no later than December 1 for spring entrance; no later than April 1 for summer entrance. Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis throughout the year, and applicants are notified of the admission decision accordingly.

All students are admitted to the program on a provisional basis. In order to be admitted formally as a candidate to the MALS program, the applicant must successfully complete two successive or concurrent Reed courses, at least one of which must be at the graduate level. If the student is accepted, credit for these courses will be applied to the MALS degree. Within one term of completing the second course, the student must submit to the Committee on Graduate Studies a self-evaluation, outline of course progression and completion, and a class paper. The program director will solicit comments from the student’s instructors, including an assessment of the applicant’s potential to write a final degree paper. Once accepted as a candidate, the student should consult with the faculty adviser to plan a program of study consistent with the goals of the program, leading to the completion of all requirements for the MALS degree.

Costs and Financial Assistance

Tuition is calculated on a per-unit basis at a rate reduced from that of the undergraduate program. For the 2007-08 academic year, the semester MALS tuition rates are as follows:

1/2 unit $1,640 2 units $6,560
1 unit
$3,280 2 1/2 units $8,200
1 1/2 units $4,920
3 or more $9,840

Students enrolled at least half-time (1.5 units in the fall or spring terms; one unit in the summer term) are eligible to participate in the Federal Stafford Loan program. Students wishing to borrow under the Federal Stafford Loan program must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). In addition, for each semester that a MALS student is interested in borrowing a federal loan, the student should provide the financial aid office with the following information: a letter stating the semester of attendance (fall, spring, or summer), the course titles and the number of units per course, and a loan request form. New borrowers at Reed must also complete a loan entrance session.

The FAFSA is available in Reed’s financial aid office, or online at The Reed College code for the FAFSA is 003217. If the student would like to borrow through one of the college’s preferred lenders, a student loan request form also is available in the financial aid office. The maximum subsidized Federal Stafford Loan available to a graduate student is $8,500 per academic year. The maximum unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loan available to a graduate student is $12,000 per academic year. The exact amount of subsidized and unsubsidized loan eligibility is based upon the student’s determined need, calculated from the FAFSA and the number of units enrolled at Reed each semester. Graduate students also may borrow costs of attendance under the federal PLUS loan program, which requires a credit check.  As the Stafford loans should cover the cost of attendance for most students, however, it is unlikely that MALS students would qualify for the additional PLUS loan.

For financial aid purposes, the academic year at Reed College begins in summer, continuing through fall and spring.

A Reed College monthly payment option, administered by Tuition Management Systems, offers a flexible alternative to semester payments to the college. Participants make 10 equal monthly payments, beginning July 15, for the academic year. (A five-month payment option also is available for one-semester participation.) Requests for an application and questions may be addressed to the Reed College business office, to Tuition Management Systems at 800-722-4867, or online at

The MALS program also sponsors a small scholarship each year to help defray tuition costs for one or two MALS students. Recipients are chosen by the Committee on Graduate Studies based on an application process that takes into account primarily financial need (as calculated from the FAFSA form), but also academic and personal merit. Generally, the committee will call for scholarship applications in the spring and make a final decision on awards no later than fall of the new academic year.

Satisfactory Academic Progress

Satisfactory academic progress refers to a minimum grade point average (GPA) expectation, the number of units completed during the academic year, and the time it normally would take to complete the MALS degree. For federal financial aid purposes, a student is expected to maintain at least a 2.0 GPA. Full-time status at Reed is 3 units in a regular semester (fall or spring) and 1.5 units in summer. Based on the degree requirement of 9 units, a student attending full time would take a year and a half to complete the program. Students are eligible for federal financial aid for up to 150 percent of the regular time frame to complete a degree; therefore, MALS students may be eligible for federal aid for up to two years of full-time study. A student who enrolls part time during any semester may be eligible for additional semesters of federal aid.

Reed’s institutional definition of satisfactory academic progress for the number of completed units is the same as noted above in the federal definition. It differs, however, from the federal definition in minimum GPA and time frame. MALS students generally are expected to maintain a GPA of at least 3.0. They must apply for formal candidacy in the program after completing their first two courses, take at least one course every three semesters, and complete the degree within six years of acceptance as a degree candidate.

Dropping Courses, Refunds, and Withdrawal from the Program

MALS students who drop courses during a semester must complete an add/drop form, available from the registrar’s office. The signatures of the instructor, adviser, and student are required for acceptance of the form. Deadlines for registration changes are published in the academic calendar. The date that the completed form is submitted to the registrar’s office is the effective date for determining any refund.

The refund of tuition is based on the percentage of the payment period completed by the student. The effective drop date determines the period of completion. The method of determining the refund percentage pertains to non-federal Title IV financial aid (for example, alternative loans or the Menashe scholarship). The business office has detailed information on the refund policy.

No deviations from the refund schedule will be made except in cases of extreme hardship, of which the college shall be the sole judge. The Administration Committee may, upon the recommendation of the MALS program director, approve petitions for such exceptions. Reed College’s refund policy is based in part on the fact that it is an institution with a semester-based program, and we are not required to take attendance. The refund policy applies to all graduate students who drop or withdraw from courses during a semester, whether or not they have federal Title IV financial aid, except as noted in the section below.

Any student who wishes to withdraw formally from the MALS program must provide written notification to the MALS office. If the student is enrolled at the time of withdrawal, the student must complete the add/drop form.

Credit balances under $10 will not be refunded.

Tuition Refund for Federal Title IV Financial Aid Recipients

Federal Title IV financial aid includes the subsidized and unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loan. For students who are recipients of federal Title IV financial aid, additional calculations must be made for tuition refunds.

First, the college calculates the amount of Title IV aid earned by the student for the percentage of payment period completed. If the percentage of payment period completed is greater than 60 percent, the student is considered to have earned 100 percent of their Title IV aid; otherwise, they have earned the actual percentage calculated.

Second, the college compares the amount earned with the amount disbursed to determine the amount that must be returned to the Title IV programs. The amount disbursed is that aid awarded and disbursed to the student’s account, plus the Title IV aid awarded that could have been disbursed to the student’s account (such as memo balances).

Third, the college determines the amount of Title IV aid that must be returned to the Title IV programs by the college and by the student. Aid is returned to the Title IV programs in the program order listed above.

Health Insurance

All degree-seeking MALS students taking a half unit or more of Reed classes continuously each term, including summers, are eligible to enroll in the Reed College health plan. Students are allowed one term of non-enrollment in their progression to the MALS degree; a second term of non-enrollment would result in termination of coverage. A student who is unable to return to classes because of extenuating circumstances may qualify to purchase coverage for an additional period of time.

The rates for graduate students are somewhat higher than for undergraduates. However, MALS students may choose their own primary care providers off campus. In addition, MALS students who join the Reed health plan may seek medical attention from the Reed health center, preferably by appointment but also by dropping in. The health center requires students seeking their services to complete a confidential health history form. Students should refer to the Reed College health plan brochure available through the MALS office for details.

History 570 The Incas
Half course for one semester. This course examines the Incas from their origins as a tribal power, through their extraordinary creation of a pan-Andean empire in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, to the collapse of Inca hegemony in the face of Spanish conquest and the construction of a colonial society. Particular attention will be given to the political and economic organization of the empire; Inca ideology; and the development of the Inca core around Cusco with the enormous variation in provincial societies. The class will end by studying post-conquest society, addressing cultural continuity and syncretism, identity formation, and the organization and ideology of Spanish colonialism. Conference. Offered fall 2007.

Liberal Studies 518 Shakespeare and Film
Full course for one semester. This course will examine the way Shakespeare’s plays have been transferred to and transformed by the filmic medium. We will read five plays and study two films of each one in order to see how adaptation constitutes interpretation. The plays will include Macbeth, King Lear, Othello, Henry V, and The Tempest. The directors will include such masters as Welles, Olivier, Kurosawa, Polanski, Greenaway, Branaugh, and Baz Luhrmann. The course has three goals: to introduce students to film theory, cinematography, and a vocabulary for film analysis; to study Shakespearean criticism and interpretation; and to examine the problems of adaptation. Conference. Offered summer 2008.

Liberal Studies 547 Ancient and Modern Praise Poetry: Ted Hughes and Pindar
Half course for one semester. Praise poetry—poetry intended to glorify patrons and produced at their request—seems impure today, tainted by its association with money and power. Yet it is the goal of this course to explore the rich dynamics of poetry produced in these circumstances. The course will study two praise poets in order to gain a better appreciation of the productions of each: the Classical Greek poet Pindar and the modern poet Ted Hughes, who, although better known for his other poetry and his marriage to Sylvia Plath, as British Poet Laureate wrote poems to commemorate royal births, weddings and anniversaries from 1982 until his death in 1998. Conference. Offered spring 2008.

Liberal Studies 563 The Bloomsbury Group
Half course for one semester. This course examines the writings, works, and general affect of the Bloomsbury set, the loose collection of writers, artists, biographers, and thinkers that had an enormous impact on British culture in the first half of the twentieth century. The course will stress the group’s intellectual debts to the Cambridge philosopher G. E. Moore, and also will examine closely the Bloomsberries’ rejection of what they saw as the artistic, social, and sexual restrictions of Victorian society. The course will give much attention to the writings of Virginia Woolf, the group’s pre-eminent figure, but we also will look at other key figures: E. M. Forster, Clive Bell, John Maynard Keynes, Roger Fry, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, and Lytton Strachey. Conference. Offered fall 2007.

MALS 670 Degree Paper
Full course for one semester.

Mathematics 537 The Copernican Revolution
Half course for one semester. This courdr provided an introduction to classical astronomy, with particular attention to the Copernican Revolution. We will consider first Plato’s problem to account for and predict the anomalous motions of the planets and the subsequent accounting by Ptolemaic astronomy. Our primary focus will be on the heliocentric solution to this problem (the Copernican Revolution) and subsequent works by Kepler, Galileo, and the Jesuits that supported the new astronomy and the gradual transformation of worldview. The "Galileo affair" will be studied carefully. Conference. Offered fall 2007.

Psychology 531 Emotions
Half course for one semester. Affects and emotions color our subjective experience, influence what we remember and how we make decisions, and predispose us to select certain actions. They influence our interactions with significant others and our mental and physical health, and they provide channels for the transmission of social and cultural values. This course will emphasize understandings supported by empirical studies, but with due attention to questions raised across disciplines. Sample topics include: whether there are discrete emotional states corresponding to “natural kind,” the influence of non-conscious affects on decision-making, the broaden-and-build theory of positive affects, empathy, self-regulation, and emotional intelligence. Conference. Offered spring 2008.

Religion 552 History of Islam in America
Half course for one semester. This course examines the history of Islam in America from the arrival of the first African Muslims as slaves to the aftermath of September 11. Through analysis of select primary sources the course, we will contextualize the phenomenon of American Islam at the cross-section of both American religious history and modern Islamic history. By doing so, we will inquire into how the history of American Islam could enrich conventional understandings of religious pluralism in the United States and the relationship between Islam and modernity. Conference. Offered spring 2008.

Religion 574 Religion and Media
Half course for one semester. The newest and arguably the most dynamic new approach in religious studies has emerged from media theory and communications theory. Such theorists as Niklas Luhmann, Friedrich Kittler, and Vilem Flusser have laid the foundations for media theory proper, following on the limited advances of such pioneers as Marshall McLuhan. Cybernetics, cognitive science, and systems science each are contributing today to the third stage in the development of a media theory of religion. Upon reviewing this theoretical foundation, the course investigates the contemporary affect of media on religion evolution in the present age of "rebelief." Conference. Offered summer 2008. 

Seminar Topics

The following graduate seminars have been offered in the past five years:

Anthropology 570 The Theory and Practice of Globalization
Art 541 Picasso’s Cubism
Art 564 The Institution of Modernism
Biology 505 The Biological Legacy of Lewis and Clark
Biology 540 Environmental Studies in the Pacific Northwest
Chinese 527 Representations of the Cultural Revolution
Classics 527 Women in the Ancient World
Creative Writing 512 The Memoir of Others
History 545 The Vietnam War
History 561 Inquisition and Society in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe
Liberal Studies 512 The Black Radical Tradition
Liberal Studies 524 Cultures in Contact: The American Frontier
Liberal Studies 526 Chaucer in the Medieval World
Liberal Studies 528 Crossing Chinese Frontiers
Liberal Studies 530 Dream in Human Societies
Liberal Studies 531 Socrates and Plato
Liberal Studies 535 Biblical Narrative: Literature, Art, and History
Liberal Studies 536 Economic Success and Failure
Liberal Studies 553 Literary and Visual Culture in 18th-Century Britain
Liberal Studies 560 The Twenties in America
Liberal Studies 561 The Soviet Experience
Liberal Studies 562 The Victorian Fin de Siécle
Liberal Studies 569 The History of Women, Gender, and Sexuality
Liberal Studies 583 Engendering History
Liberal Studies 588 Railways and Modernity
Liberal Studies 592 Jews and Others: Jewish American Literature, Culture, and Identity, 1700–2000
Liberal Studies 593 Faulkner and Morrison
Literature 505 Fictions of Asian America
Literature 511 Form and Dissolution in the Central European Novel: 1888–1927
Literature 542 Argentina: Literature and Society
Literature 543 Culture and Literature of Medieval France
Literature 552 Studies in Autobiography
Literature 560 Don Quixote and Narrative Theory
Literature 573 Languages of the Imagination
Literature 584 The Beat Generation
Literature 591 Contemporary and Classical Literary Theory
Literature/Mathematics 563 Thomas Mann and the Discourse of Science in Early-Twentieth Century
Mathematics 537 The Copernican Revolution
Philosophy 545 Iris Murdoch
Philosophy 548 Existentialism
Physics 568 Here in the Universe
Psychology 522 Stereotyping and Prejudice
Psychology 531 Emotions
Psychology 544 The Social Construction of Disability
Religion 533 Hidden Divinity: In Search of Christian Mysticism
Theatre 519 The Birth of Modernism in the Theatre

MALS Course Descriptions

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