St. Norbert’s launches master of arts in liberal studies

By | August 19, 2009

Launching this fall with its first core course – “Introduction to Liberal Studies” – the MLS program becomes the Norbertine college’s third graduate program, joining the Master in Theological Studies (MTS) and the Master of Science in Education.

“The Master of Liberal Studies is a unique program,” said Dr. Howard Ebert, who directs both the MLS and the MTS. “Most of the time, a graduate program means a narrowed specialization. Liberal Studies is very different in that it’s a broad, interdisciplinary conversation about the big themes of the day. It’s meant to help people develop the analytical, oral and written skills to deal with issues in an interdisciplinary way.”

He said the ideal candidate for the MLS program is “someone who is intellectually curious, wants to communicate better in the exploration of the big questions of life.” The program is also open to non-traditional students and classes can be audited.

Costs, Ebert added, are far lower than undergrad costs at St. Norbert: $350 per credit. The MLS degree is designed to be completed in two to three years and has a flexible schedule to accommodate working adults.

For example, the first course will be held Thursday evenings, starting Sept. 10. It will be taught by Dr. Michael Marsden, dean of the college. Future courses will be taught on evenings and Saturdays. Instructors, Ebert said, will generally be the college’s full-time faculty, across several disciplines. Dr. William Hynes, former president of St. Norbert College, will teach the spring humanities course: “Spirituality in Modern Literature.”

The program’s multi-discipline approach “is reflective of our changing world,” Ebert said. He noted that similar MLS programs are growing in popularity around the country.

“It’s becoming commonplace to recognize that, when people graduate from college,” he said, “a good part of what they learned is already dated in some way. So the question becomes how can we make sure people continue to be lifelong learners, developing, honing and maintaining those skills that help them deal with issues and technology we are not even aware of today.”

St. Norbert’s MLS program will look at the great questions of life, Ebert said, questions such as the nature of freedom and the place of the sacred in a secular world.

“These are constant questions (for humanity),” he said, “But how we approach them is changing constantly.”

The goal, he added, is intellectual exploration. So the MLS will draw from the three areas of classical education: humanities, the natural sciences and mathematics, and social sciences. These will explore intellectual thought ranging from the ancient Greek philosophers and poets to modern scientists’ exploration of artificial intelligence. Topics aimed at expanding thoughts and ideas are likely to lead to controversial, even heated, discussion, Ebert said.

“For example,” he said, “there is the question ‘What is justice?’ People come at it from all directions; just look at the recent public debate on the role of a Supreme Court justice.”

“We’re asking the big questions. People of good intelligence often disagree,” said Ebert, adding that he wants students to learn that “people think quite differently from each other.”

Like St. Norbert’s other master’s programs, Ebert said, the new MLS will be “a place to think out loud. When you think out loud, not every idea has equal weight, but when you think out loud it can be weighed, argued, debated and challenged.”

Deadline for enrollment is approaching. Contact Ebert at [email protected] or (920)403-3956.

An open house for the MLS program will be held Aug. 24, 7 p.m., at the Alumni House. For more information, view the Web site at

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