Vanderbilt University issued an apology after receiving backlash for issuing a statement on the Michigan State shooting using the artificial intelligence computer program ChatGPT.
Last week, Vanderbilt’s Peabody College’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion issued a statement on the tragedy where three Michigan State University students were killed and five others were critically wounded by a gunman.
“The recent Michigan shootings are a tragic reminder of the importance of taking care of each other, particularly in the context of creating inclusive environments,” the statement read. “As members of the Peabody campus community, we must reflect on the impact of such an event and take steps to ensure that we are doing our best to create a safe and inclusive environment for all.”
The email also mentioned creating a culture of respect and understanding while creating a space “where everyone feels welcomed and supported.”
“We must continue to engage in conversations about how we can do better, learn from our mistakes, and work together to build a stronger, more inclusive community,” the statement read. “In the wake of the Michigan shootings, let us come together as a community to reaffirm our commitment to caring for one another and promoting a culture of inclusivity on our campus. By doing so, we can honor the victims of this tragedy and work towards a safer, more compassionate future for all.”
At the bottom of the email, a sentence in parenthesis reads “Paraphrase from OpenAI’s ChatGPT AI language model, personal communication, February 15, 2023.”
The email was heavily scrutinized by the campus community, Vanderbilt’s student newspaper, The Vanderbilt Hustler, reported, as the letter never mentioned Michigan State specifically or how the university would ensure campus safety.
Vanderbilt senior Laith Kayat, whose younger sister attends Michigan State, told The Vanderbilt Hustler it was “disgusting” the university used AI to send the message.
“There is a sick and twisted irony to making a computer write your message about community and togetherness because you can’t be bothered to reflect on it yourself,” Kayat told the outlet. “(Administrators) only care about perception and their institutional politics of saving face.
“Deans, provosts, and the chancellor: Do more. Do anything. And lead us into a better future with genuine, human empathy, not a robot,” Kayat added.
The Vanderbilt Hustler also reported Nicole Joseph, associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion, sent out a follow-up email the next day, saying the university’s decision to use ChatGPT in the email was “poor judgement.”
On Feb. 14, vice provost and dean of students G.L. Black wrote a letter to the campus before the Peabody College’s email was sent, specifically mentioning the shooting at Michigan State and mentioning support resources on campus.
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Vanderbilt’s response to email
Camilla Benbow, dean of Vanderbilt Peabody College, in statement provided to USA TODAY, said the ChatGPT email didn’t follow the college’s normal review process before it was sent.
“The university’s administrators, including myself, were unaware of the email before it was sent,” Benbow said.
The equity, diversity and inclusion office is conducting a “complete review” of what led to the original email being sent, he said. During the review, associate dean Nicole Joseph and assistant dean Hasina Mohyuddin, whose names were signed at the bottom of the original email, will step back from their responsibilities with the office.
“As dean of the college, I remain personally saddened by the loss of life and injuries at Michigan State, which I know have affected members of our own community. 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,” Benbow said. “I offer my heartfelt apologies to all those who deserved better from us and did not receive it.”
What is ChatGPT?
On the ChatGPT website, users can ask the AI program a question on any topic and get a speedy, detailed response in paragraph form. The popular program has been under heavy scrutiny in recent months in the education world, as educators argue students could use it to cheat or plagiarize in school. However, it has shown it can be fallible, make factual errors and allow itself to be manipulated.
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