Students and Faculty react to the fall 2020 Module System Announcement


Graphic by Katherine Irving ’22.

Christian Wibe, Contributing Writer

Provost Karine Moe announced on May 29 that the fall 2020 semester will consist of two 7.5-week modules. On June 30, President Suzanne Rivera stated in an email to the student body that these modules will take place in-person with a remote option for those unable to return to campus.

The module system means that students will spend six hours a week in each of their classes rather than three. However, most students will only be taking two classes per module, so the total class time per week will remain effectively the same.

Alongside Moe, Macalester’s Educational Policy and Governance Committee (EPAG) will shape any new and necessary academic policies for the module system. They say that these modules will help to prevent another scramble like the second half of the spring 2020 semester.

“It is very important to consider that we are not going to be in the same position that we were in the spring semester… doing online teaching as an emergency because we have to close campus,” EPAG member and chair of Latin American studies Ernesto Ortiz-Diaz said.

Rather than having just a week to implement new teaching and learning strategies, EPAG and other senior staff have the summer to work on the plan for next semester. 

Ortiz-Diaz said that with this extra planning time, he hopes the coming module will run smoothly.

“I assure you that it is the easiest schedule that we came up with — it was the best one,”  Ortiz-Diaz said. “We are a college that is extremely dedicated to and commit to excellence in teaching and we’re going to maintain that. Students are always our first priority.”

Some professors responded with appreciation for the module system. Biology professor Devavani Chatterjea explained how modules will divide her courses into more manageable pieces for students.

“So there’s not this pressure, ‘I have to do this really long thing,’ but you know, you do this short thing and this short thing and this short thing and together they tell a bigger story,” biology professor Devavani Chatterjea said in an interview.

Macalester is still working on how it will accommodate lab-oriented courses in the module system. 

For a department like geology, which has labs, field trips or specimen collection components in nearly all of its classes, this means a major re-imagining of the curriculum. Even if classes are held in-person and technical instruments such as microscopes are readily available,  the loss of time for these geology projects would make them less likely to happen at all.

“The entire process is typically spread out over an entire semester,” associate geology professor Karl Wirth wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly. “This kind of work, which is very important for the professional development of scientists, is not possible in a shorter module due to the time needed at each step of the research process and the bottlenecks presented by needed equipment, instruments, and facilities.”

Students echoed the worry around potential limitations of research opportunities under the module system. Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) senior class representative Finn Odum ’21 is concerned that flexible modules may come at the cost of projects which would ordinarily take a full semester.

“I don’t know if we’re going to be able to do the same things [research] in that period of time,” Odum said. “We haven’t ever had to try that. We don’t have a system in place for that.”

The unknowns of academic life under the module system is but one factor for students. Students doubt whether their sports seasons will proceed as usual this fall, though neither the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) nor Macalester Athletics has announced a decision yet concerning this. Odum, who is the captain of the women’s rugby team, assumes this season will have to look a lot different than usual. 

“Contact sports are nonexistent,” Odum said. “Right now, the way things are in Minnesota, we could only do non-contact drills and no shared equipment. So literally running. That’s all we could do.”

If Macalester will be operating fully online next semester, then further concerns relating to disconnection of students from each other and the community at large arise. These questions include how to address the mental health of students when battling from multiple fronts, and if the module system is one of these fronts.

“I am feeling anxious,” MCSG sophomore class representative Inaara Peermohammed ’23 wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly. “I am missing the entire Mac community and filled with boredom since staying at home is the only option now.”

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Lily Denehy contributed reporting to this article.

Finn Odum is a Mac Weekly staff writer.