Vanderbilt University draws heat from its student body for using ChatGPT to generate a community-wide letter addressing the recent mass shooting in University of Michigan.
The Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of Education released a statement which many have criticized as impersonal and lacking in empathy.
“The recent shootings in Michigan are a tragic reminder of the importance of caring for one another, especially in the context of creating inclusive environments,” reads the first line of the letter. “As members of the Peabody Campus community, we need to reflect on the impact of such an event and take action to ensure that we are doing our best to create a safe and inclusive environment for all.”
A paragraph below began with a sentence that struck community members as generic.
“Another important aspect of creating an inclusive environment is promoting a culture of respect and understanding,” the letter states. “It means valuing the diversity of experiences, perspectives and identities on our campus, and actively working to create a space where everyone feels welcomed and supported.”
The post went on to tout the benefits of creating “a safe and inclusive environment on campus”.
In small print, just above the signature line, a disclaimer appeared stating that the entire statement was a “paraphrase of OpenAI’s ChatGPT AI language model”.
“Sick and Twisted Irony”
Students and community members lambasted the university for the misstep, accusing administrators of orchestrating a public relations stunt.
Vanderbilt senior Laith Kayat, whose sister attends MSU, called the use of ChatGPT “disgusting,” student newspaperreported the Vanderbilt Hustler.
“There’s a sick, twisted irony in having your message about community and unity written by a computer because you can’t be bothered to think about it yourself,” Kayat told The Hustler. “[Administrators] only care about perception and their institutional politics to save face.”
Kayat called on administrators to do better than rely on a robot to run the university.
Administrators never reviewed the letter
On Friday, a day after the initial letter was published, Nicole M. Joseph, associate dean for EDI, sent a follow-up email saying her office had made an error in judgment by using ChatGPT to reflect on the shooting. from MSU.
“As with all new technologies that affect higher education, this moment gives us all an opportunity to reflect on what we know and what we still need to learn about AI,” reads the letter. tracking Joseph, according to the Vanderbilt Hustler.
Peabody College Dean Camilla Benbow said the controversial missive was never reviewed by her office before it was distributed.
“The development and distribution of the initial email did not follow normal Peabody processes that provide for multiple levels of review before being sent,” she said in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch.
The dean’s office is investigating the incident, according to Benbow. In the meantime, Associate Dean Joseph and Assistant Dean Hasina Mohyuddin will be on temporary leave, she said.
“I am also deeply troubled that a communication from my administration so missed the crucial need for personal connection and empathy during a time of tragedy,” she added in her statement.
There are scenarios in which ChatGPT can be very effective in writing communications. Some business leaders have come to rely on the tool to write speeches and act as a “thought partner”. Debates are ongoing about the types of jobs that technology finally eliminate.
But right now, the software is missing a key feature that makes humans unique: judgment.
ChatGPT can summarize data and generate text, but lacks the emotional intelligence of humans, according to Oded Netzer, a professor at Columbia Business School. Understanding the “why” behind facts and figures and expressing genuine emotion are still “the kinds of tasks that require judgment and where humans are still very valuable,” he said.