Is the module system the problem?

Is the module system the problem?

Over the past few months, the new module system has come under a lot of scrutiny from Macalester students, culminating in a letter signed by over 160 students asking that the school return to the semester system next spring. In addition to this letter, there was an opinion article by Amy Vandervelde ’21 published in The Mac Weekly imploring the administration to put an end to the module system which, according to Vandervelde, “makes our lives chaos, increases our stress and makes us miserable.” 

Many complaints raised by students are justified. On top of the global pandemic, anti-Blackness and police violence and the recent election, a new online educational system can be an additional stress on students and faculty. I will not attempt to repudiate any claims made by students on the effects this schedule has had on their mental wellbeing. 

However, as I read Vandervelde’s article, I couldn’t help but wonder, how much has really changed? Would returning to a semester system really solve our problems as Vandervelde claims? While some of my classes have undoubtedly been more stressful, others have been much less so. Much like before the pandemic, the pace of classes has largely been left up to the discretion of the professors rather than the administration. And just like last spring, I hear complaints from students about being overworked and not having enough time for personal interests. There have long been complaints about Macalester’s mental health policies and academic rigor. Much like other social issues, the pandemic and module system have merely brought to the surface societal problems that already existed, not created them.

So if these issues already existed, what will returning to a semester system really solve? Will having four classes instead of two really help us academically as Vandervelde suggests? Personally, I don’t think so. At least not to the extent that some may think. Better solutions to these problems would include increasing the number of hours of free counseling per student, guaranteeing that students can see the same therapist each time they go and requiring a minimum grade guarantee for classes. 

Furthermore, I don’t agree with all the negative effects of the module system laid out in Vandervelde’s article. I’ve found that switching between two classes is just as effective a study method as switching between four and I like not having to juggle four different classes at once; if I got seriously ill, I’d rather pass-fail or drop two classes rather than four; and I’ve still been able to learn a lot this fall. I’m not sure I would really get that much more out of a semester. Because many of the activities and events that I would normally participate in have been cancelled, I find myself less inclined to over-schedule myself, a problem many Macalester students face. Now I have more time to invest in my classes and spend time with my roommate, allowing me to relax more. I can only speak for my experience and I understand others have different opinions, all of which are valid and all of which should be heard with equal weight. 

I understand the desire to return to any kind of normalcy. But I feel that the complaints against the new system are in some ways conflated with complaints against the social upheaval of the current moment and pre-existing social problems rather than the schedule. You might not agree with my opinion but I think it important that the student body come together to solve issues hurting members of our community and have an open dialogue about how best to go about doing so.