Date of Award


Degree Name

EdD Doctor of Education

Dissertation Committee

Robert L. Infantino, EdD, Chair; Elizabeth O'Connell, PhD; William Piland, PhD


curriculum, development, higher education, Leadership studies, Master's Degree Programs in Liberal Studies, program directors


Master's degree programs in liberal studies (MALS programs) have proliferated in the United States over the past twenty years. Studying the leadership relationships that faculty and administration form during the MALS program development process provides insight into how non-traditional graduate programs may be developed in the future. The purposes of the study were to investigate the development of MALS programs, and to examine the leaders and followers who successfully advanced the MALS program development agenda. The specific objectives of the study were (1) to examine the theoretical bases and curricular frameworks of MALS programs; (2) to explore how individuals and groups practiced leadership, implemented change, and successfully developed MALS programs; and (3) to examine the leaders and followers who developed MALS programs. Eight MALS programs were examined against the theoretical framework of Foster's critical leadership, which states that leadership relationships must be characterized by demystification (penetration) of structure, be politically and critically educative, and be attentive to the symbolic and communicative power of language. According to Foster, if these three elements are seen, the praxis of leadership is present. A multiple case study design was used. Eight MALS programs--which varied by geographic region, institution type, and program type--were selected for the study. MALS program directors described their programs as being inquiry-based, designed to bring new cultural and ethnic voices into the intellectual conversation, and intended to offer adult students a broad-based alternative to a career-oriented master's degree. All programs are interdisciplinary on a program level, but not necessarily on a course level. The number of electives determines the interdisciplinary type of a MALS program. In assessing an applicant's suitability for MALS program admission, directors relied much more heavily on personal interviews and application essays than on standardized test scores and undergraduate grade point averages. The factor most closely identified with successful MALS program development was the presence of an academic champion who also has direct administrative responsibility for the development and operation of the MALS program. Contra-indications to successful MALS program development included having an administrative champion but no academic champion, or experiencing the sudden loss of an administrative and/or academic champion. All three of Foster's essential elements in critical leadership were seen in the development of six MALS programs in the study. There was insufficient information to make a judgment about leadership in the development of the other two programs.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access