Reed College Catalog


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 more traditional 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 the sake of learning.

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 taught 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 consent of 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 7 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 2010—11 academic year are “Contemporary and Classical Literary Theory” in fall, “Sports and Social Life” in spring, and “Truth and Representation in Early Modern Europe” 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, should lead to a clearly defined objective and provide the theoretical basis for the final degree paper project. After completing two provisional Reed courses, all students must make application for formal candidacy to the program. Upon candidacy approval, 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; one and one-half units is full-time. While most students take three to six years to graduate, 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. Complementing this flexibility in progression, however, is the expectation that all MALS students meet the following completion time frames:

  1. If a student does not complete a course within three consecutive semesters, the student must submit a petition to continue in the program to the Committee on Graduate Studies by the last day of classes of the third term of nonenrollment. The petition for continuation 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. A minimum of four of the eight units must be in Reed courses at the graduate level (numbered 500 or higher).

        b. 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 the first Monday in April of the preceding spring term.

The committee is cautious about approving creative degree paper proposals and considers carefully the nature of the project, the student’s prior coursework, and the educational benefit of the project for the student. Since creative projects also include a critical component, they generally require substantial work on the part of the student. In addition, on an exceptional basis students may petition to write a two-unit, two-term degree paper, leading to a 10-unit degree program. This opportunity is for the unusual student who wishes to research and write a longer, more ambitious paper. The student must explain in the degree paper proposal the reasons for extending the project to two terms, and obtain explicit permission from the paper adviser.

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 are 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.

If a student does not earn a passing grade in the degree paper, the student must submit a new proposal on a different topic to the Committee, following the normal deadlines, and register again for the paper.


MALS students are expected to perform at the graduate level and to earn grades of B– or better in all their courses. The grade of C is allowed for students who complete a course with credit, but whose work was unsatisfactory. The grade of F designates failure. Students are eligible for an incomplete grade with the same constraints applicable to undergraduate students, with the exception of the degree paper. 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 undergraduate courses 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 individuals with an undergraduate degree who wish to sample a graduate course one time only may initiate a special student application to take one MALS course. Credit for the course 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 term. Initial, provisional admission to the MALS program requires submission of the following items: a completed application form, official transcripts from all undergraduate and postbaccalaureate schools, evidence of completion of a bachelor’s degree, two letters of recommendation, a $60 nonrefundable 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.

Students accepted for admission may request a deferral of entrance for up to two terms, and should attach a letter of intention to the enrollment form, explaining their reasons for the deferral. If students wish to enroll in courses elsewhere during the deferral term, they must notify the MALS office of their intention and submit an official transcript of the completed work to the MALS office for additional review.

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, an 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 2010–11 academic year, the semester MALS tuition rates are as follows:

1/2 unit


  2 units


1 unit


  2 1/2 units


1 1/2 units


  3 or more


Students enrolled at least half time (1.5 units in the fall or spring terms; 1 unit in the summer term) are eligible to participate in the Direct Loan program. Students wishing to borrow under the Direct Loan program must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). In addition, for each semester that a graduate 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. The maximum subsidized Direct Loan available to a graduate student is $8,500 per academic year. The maximum unsubsidized Direct 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 may, in some circumstances, borrow under the Graduate PLUS loan program to cover educational expenses. Eligibility for the Graduate PLUS program is credit-based and students wishing to borrow under this federal program must file a FAFSA. Generally, a student may borrow sufficient amounts to cover educational expenses under the Direct Loan program; therefore, it is unlikely that a MALS student will qualify for additional funding through the Graduate PLUS loan. Loan terms for the Direct Loan are more favorable than terms for the Graduate PLUS loan, and students should always borrow under the Direct Loan before considering the Graduate 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 nonfederal Title IV financial aid (e.g., 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, with 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 instructors 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 Direct 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 his or her Title IV aid; otherwise, the student has 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 nonenrollment in their progression to the MALS degree; a second term of nonenrollment 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. The plan offers access to the Aetna national network of preferred providers. Detailed information on the plan benefits and costs is available at or by calling Aetna Student Health at 866/574-8289.

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
Biology 534 Fitness and Food
Classics 527 Women in the Ancient World
Creative Writing 545 Craft Studio: American Culture
English 521 The Art of the African American Short Story
English 538 Cinema and the Senses
History 508 The First World War
History 561 Inquisition and Society in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe
History 565 Animals: An Intellectual and Cultural History
History 570 The Incas
Liberal Studies 507 Jewish Atlantic World
Liberal Studies 512 The Black Radical Tradition
Liberal Studies 516 Layered Memories of Japanese Colonialism
Liberal Studies 518 Shakespeare and Film
Liberal Studies 522 Ancient Epics: The Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid
Liberal Studies 524 Cultures in Contact: The American Frontier
Liberal Studies 526 Chaucer in the Medieval World
Liberal Studies 547 Ancient and Modern Praise Poetry: Ted Hughes and Pindar
Liberal Studies 553 Literary and Visual Culture in 18th-Century Britain
Liberal Studies 557 Literature at the Margins of the Roman Empire
Liberal Studies 559 Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology
Liberal Studies 561 The Soviet Experience
Liberal Studies 563 The Bloomsbury Group
Liberal Studies 583 Engendering History
Liberal Studies 587 Plagues and Their Meanings: Epidemic Disease in Medieval and Renaissance Europe
Liberal Studies 588 Railways and Modernity
Literature 523 Church and State in Early Modern Spanish Culture
Literature 535 The Metropolitan Experience
Literature 542 Argentina: Literature and Society
Literature/Mathematics 563 Thomas Mann and the Discourse of Science in Early 20th Century
Mathematics 537 The Copernican Revolution
Philosophy 548 Existentialism
Philosophy 562 Religion and Modernity
Physics 579 Great Ideas in 20th-Century Physics
Psychology 522 Stereotyping and Prejudice
Psychology 531 Emotions
Religion 533 Hidden Divinity: In Search of Christian Mysticism
Religion 552 History of Islam in America
Religion 574 Religion and Media

Biology 520 - Pacific Northwest Forests

One-half course for one semester. This course explores the major features of forests in the Pacific Northwest, which include the largest temperate rain forests and the most diverse coniferous forests in the world. Topics include the structure and basic ecological features of communities, adaptation of organisms to their abiotic and biotic environments, symbiotic relationships, succession, endemism, and biogeography. These concepts will be developed to address current environmental problems such as resource extraction, climate change, invasive species, pollution, and loss of biodiversity. Students will read extensively in the primary literature in forest science and discuss the current state of scientific knowledge and the potential for this knowledge to drive policy issues Conference. Offered fall 2010.

Economics 567 - Financial Crises, Market Crashes and Economic Depressions

Full course for one semester. This course will develop basic background theories of macroeconomics and the financial system, then proceed to utilize those theoretical tools to analyze economic crises under the gold standard, the economic history of the interwar period including the Great Depression, and crises in developing and developed countries since 1970 (including the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and the economic woes of Japan since 1990). We will finish with a detailed analysis of the origins and propagation of the crisis of 2008, including a discussion of the policy response from the Federal Reserve and the Obama administration. Conference. Offered summer 2011.

History 535 - American Abolitionism

One-half course for one semester. This course explores the culture and politics of the antislavery movements that emerged in the United States between the American Revolution and the Civil War. We will connect abolitionism to other social reform movements and to major historical transformations of the era, including the political revolutions of the Atlantic world, the development of market capitalism, and the rise of evangelical Protestantism. We also will assess the divisions among antislavery activists, with particular attention to the ways in which race and gender shaped abolitionists’ responses to the problem of slavery. Using American abolitionism as a case study, this course invites students to think in a critical and historically rigorous way about the ironies and complexities of social change. Conference. Offered fall 2010.

Liberal Studies 548 - Sports and Social Life

One-half course for one semester. Sports are a central aspect of ritual form and everyday life in a large number of societies across the globe. This course approaches sports play as a fundamental practice of modern social formation and social reproduction. Through case studies of situated sports practices (notably football/soccer, cricket/baseball, basketball, bodybuilding, boxing, and skateboarding/parkour) in a variety of societies (United States, Europe, Caribbean, South America, Africa, and South Asia), it examines key issues in the cultural study of modernity: gender/sexuality, race/ethnicity, class/stratification, violence (post-)colonialism, nationalism, and globalization. The course introduces students to phenomenological approaches to social life, approaching culture as an embodied mode of practice rather than a cognitive field of knowledge. Conference. Offered spring 2011.

Liberal Studies 582 - Truth and Representation in Early Modern Europe

One-half course for one semester. This course examines the early modern philosophic and literary preoccupation with the problem of representation. Through a comparative study of works in England, France, and Spain in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, we will look at how writers express considerable anxiety about the potentially misleading nature of images. They fear the implications, both moral and metaphysical, of a world where no image can be trusted and dreams cannot be distinguished from reality. We will contrast the literary depiction of the problem of representation with the philosophical promise of a solution. What is gained and what is lost when representation can no longer beguile us? Conference. Offered summer 2011.

Liberal Studies 591 - Contemporary and Classical Literary Theory

One-half course for one semester. An introduction to literary theory, from a classicist's perspective, that draws on the disciplines of literature, philosophy, history, and anthropology. The aim is to develop an understanding of the various sorts of questions that can be asked about a work of literature. Contemporary readings will be drawn from New Criticism, Structuralism and Semiotics, Marxist literary theory, and New Historicism. We also will compare these concerns with those of three great classical literary theorists: Plato, Aristotle, and Longinus. Conference. Offered fall 2010.

Literature 532 - Leo Tolstoy

One-half course for one semester. A century after his death, Leo Tolstoy remains one of the world’s most read and admired fiction writers as well as an important voice in moral, political, and aesthetic philosophy. This course surveys Tolstoy’s lifework, along with his moral, religious, aesthetic, and autobiographical writings. From the perspective of intellectual history, we will explore such central themes in Tolstoy’s thought as selfhood, logic of history, sexuality, death, war, politics of nonviolence, and ethics of nonparticipation in evil. As we consider Tolstoy’s evolution as a social activist and religious reformer, we also will analyze his poetics in the context of Russian and European realism and modernism. Conference. Offered spring 2011.

Psychology 550 - Psychological Perspectives on Art

One-half course for one semester. Psychological science has much to contribute to our understanding of the perception, appreciation, and production of artistic works. In addition to studies of the psychology and neuroscience of perception, studies of emotions, attention, learning and expertise, theory of mind, individual differences, and creativity provide important perspectives. The primary goal of this course will be to consider the relevance of concepts derived from such studies to the arts, with a focus on examples from the visual arts, music, and literature. We will consider the methods psychological scientists use to develop and test these concepts. Conference. Offered spring 2011.

MALS 670 - Degree Paper

Full course for one semester or one year.