Janet Freedman said she wanted to pursue a master's
degree right after graduating from college, but life, as it
does, sort of got in the way. Freedman married and had two
children, and that notion of an advanced degree sat on a
Then it came time for the children to go away to
college. "I said to my son, daughter and my husband, 'It's
my turn now,'" she said.
In 1995, Freedman enrolled in Johns Hopkins'
Master of Liberal Arts
program, one of the first such programs of its ilk,
which last year turned the ripe old age of 40.
"I chose the program because there were such a wide
variety of classes and so many different paths I could
explore at that point in my life," she said. "I had looked
at doing other [educational programs] that seemed more
practical, but the courses here were so interesting, so
rich, so diverse, that I decided to pursue a Hopkins
Freedman said she's glad she did. Last year, her first
book was published; Kent Island: The Land That Once Was
Eden (Maryland Historical Society, November 2002) is a
work of nonfiction that began life as Freedman's MLA
"This program gave me a tremendous amount of
confidence. It opened up a lot of doors and windows that I
hadn't opened for myself," Freedman said. "It was a very
rich educational experience that certainly paid dividends
in my case."
On Sunday, Nov. 9, the MLA program will host a belated
birthday gathering for itself with "The Best of the MLA:
Celebrating 40 Years." The event will feature the Ralph
Harper Lecture, presented by P.M. Forni, a professor of
literature and co-founder of the Johns Hopkins
Project. Forni's keynote address is titled "Between
Beauty and Goodness." The event will be held from 5 to 8
p.m. in the Glass Pavilion in Levering Hall, Homewood
Forni's lecture will be followed by an open
conversation on the liberal arts with a panel of JHU
scholars that includes new MLA program chair Kyle McCarter,
the William Foxwell Albright Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Studies; Arnall
Patz, director emeritus of the
Institute and a program alumnus; Mark Blyth, an
associate professor of political
science who teaches in the program; Nancy Norris,
former MLA director and a lecturer in the Krieger School's
Programs; and Diane Bockrath, a current MLA student and
an administrative assistant in Homewood's Office of Undergraduate Admissions.
Established in 1962, the Johns Hopkins Master of
Liberal Arts program is an interdisciplinary one that
provides students with an opportunity "to explore a world
of knowledge." For its first 37 years, the program was part
of what is now the School of Professional Studies in
Business and Education. In 1999, the MLA moved to the
School of Arts and Sciences' Advanced Academic Programs.
"The program provides an opportunity for students to
focus their curriculum on their own needs and priorities
and serves as a resource for enrichment and continued
personal growth," said McCarter, who became chair in
Courses are taught each term by distinguished Hopkins
faculty from several divisions, as well as by leading
experts from cultural, artistic, government and academic
institutions in the region, including the Walters Art
Musuem, the State Department and the Maryland State
MLA students enroll in small, interactive classes,
picked from a range of offerings in world cultures,
literature, philosophy, science, technology, medicine and
society. A sample of courses includes ones on the Dead Sea
Scrolls, Beethoven, the American West, Art of the Middle
Ages, William Faulkner, Mapping Maryland and Bio-ethical
Issues in Genetic Research.
To earn a degree, students must complete nine courses
with a one-semester thesis course, or eight courses with a
two-semester capstone experience. Classes are held in the
evening and on Saturdays at the Homewood campus, the
university's Bernstein and Offit Building in Washington,
D.C., and a variety of cultural institutions in Baltimore.
Class size typically falls in the 12 to 15 range, with a
maximum of 18 students. [Johns Hopkins employees are
eligible for tuition remission.]
Melissa Hilbish, associate chair of the program and a
senior lecturer, said that one of the keys to the program's
success is the caliber of faculty it attracts.
Hilbish said that what keeps the faculty coming back
to teach is the quality, dedication and diversity of the
students attracted to the curriculum. Former and current
MLA students include teachers, doctors, soldiers, business
executives, lawyers, bartenders, a vineyard owner and even
a former state senator and a U.S. Treasury secretary.
"These are all people who want to be here and very
much want to learn," she said. "They are a very energetic,
high-level group of students from a wide range of academic
and professional backgrounds. What they bring to each
course is a dynamic exchange of ideas and thoughts through
which both faculty and students benefit."
Daniel Weiss, the James B.
Knapp Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, teaches in
the program and previously served on its advisory board.
Weiss, who will provide the opening address at the Nov. 9
event, calls the program "a gem within the university" that
resonates to the core of the university's mission to serve
the community and provide opportunities for liberal
"This program satiates what is clearly a great thirst
and hunger to have access to this kind of learning," Weiss
said. "I feel we do an excellent job of using our own
faculty and providing unique opportunities to learn all
sorts of subjects."
Hilbish said the essence of a liberal arts education
is to open up ways of thinking and to allow students to
look outside themselves and go off in new directions.
"For many students, it is a journey. Some of our
graduates find new careers based upon what they've
discovered through the program; some tell us they do their
current jobs better because of it; others just see the
world in a new light," she said. "It's all about personal
The program currently has more than 2,000 alumni, who
Hilbish said are a very dedicated group. Janet Freedman
currently co-chairs the program's 10-member alumni
committee, who along with the advisory board help map out
the program's curriculum and direction.
Hilbish said the program has remained relatively
unchanged throughout its history. Future plans include a
broadening of what is already a very ample curriculum, but
Hilbish said that in the MLA's case there is no reason to
reinvent the wheel.
"We do what we do, and we do it well," she said. "To
the notion of reinventing ourselves, we see no point. What
we have here is a very successful formula that year after
year resonates with the public and draws people from all
walks of life."
To attend the Nov. 9 event, contact
call 410-516-4578. For more information on the MLA program,