Staff Editorial: Would new academic policy changes alleviate stress and inequity?

On April 18, the Lawrence administration announced new academic changes for the 2017-18 school year. There is a new maximum amount of units allowed per term for students (excluding Double Degree students) which dropped from 23 to 22 units per term. Students are now allowed to overload once per their four years here at Lawrence without incurring an overloading fee of $1000 per unit overloaded. These changes came about from a committee including both students and faculty members. As explained by the Associate Dean of the Faculty Bob Williams, these are first steps to alleviate academic stress on both students and faculty members, as well as the issue of financial equity amongst students.

Williams stated that dropping the maximum units allowed per term to 22 would discourage some students from taking on too much academically, and would therefore help them avoid unnecessary stress and other stress-induced mental health issues. Williams also mentioned that dropping the maximum units would dissuade students from gaming the system—registering a six-unit class as a five-unit and not having to pay the overload fee. Now however, if a student did so, they would only receive four units for a six-unit class—which may not be as worth it. In addition, the new rules discourage frequent overloading, which might be an option for only some wealthier students. In the current system, wealthier students can choose to overload and pay for only one more unit to have four classes, and therefore their classes will overall be cheaper than students who can’t pay for one more units and only take three classes. The new requirements hope to even out this financial inequity.

However, we feel that changing these overloading requirements might not directly help the issues outlined above. Considering that a relatively small number of students overload or nearly overload per term, it is difficult to assume that this decision will even out pre-exisiting financial inequity amongst students. With only a handful of students overloading, or near overloading, students taking a normal load will still bear around the same cost. The issue of financial inequity is also much more complex than the issue of academic load.

Along with those academic workloads, students often shoulder the burden of extracurricular activities and part-time jobs. The culture of being over-busy and overcommitting oneself at Lawrence adds on to the stress and aggravate mental health issues. If relieving stress and addressing mental health issues on campus is the main goal here, we feel that a more concerted effort with increasing attention and resources into other wellness services, especially counseling, is much more needed. In addition, there have been no studies conducted in Lawrence to give context on whether overloading causes increasing stress amongst those who overload; such studies are needed to have more conversations and academic policy changes such as this one.

With the new free one-time overload, students that need that one extra class to graduate or are interested in a class offered only one term will be able to do so; however, this policy incentivizes students to overload, a seeming contradiction to what the administration was trying to accomplish.

These policy changes might not exactly solve the problems of stress and financial equity but for the administration it is a chance to see if it helps. Without concrete studies and surveys of student stress levels the administration cannot properly gauge how these changes will affect students without giving it a trial run next year. These new changes could be the first steps leading to other policies and actions aimed to create a healthier and more equal academic environment at Lawrence.