Vanderbilt Univ. Diversity Deans Under Fire for Sending MSU Shooting Condolence Letter Written by AI
Students and faculty railed against diversity administrators at Vanderbilt University after the Peabody Office of Equity, Diversion, and Inclusion sent a letter responding to the tragic shooting at Michigan State University that ChatGPT wrote.
Nicole Joseph, the dean who signed off on the letter, has been suspended.
The 297-word letter, which students labeled insensitive and impersonal due to it being written by AI, resulted in the suspension of two deans at the University.
Students quickly noticed that an AI wrote the letter after a message was appended to the bottom.
‘Paraphrase from OpenAI’s ChatGPT AI language model, personal communication, February 15, 2023,’ it read.
One student, Laith Kayat, is from Michigan and has a sister who attends MSU. She said the letter had a ‘sick and twisted irony’ as the office that wrote it clearly did not care about the values it espoused.
‘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,’ he told the Vanderbilt Hustler, the student newspaper.
“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,” Laith Kayat, a senior and Michigan native, said. https://t.co/JnzZQo2Ncm
— Vanderbilt Hustler (@VandyHustler) February 17, 2023
‘[Administrators] only care about perception and their institutional politics of saving face,’ he continued. ‘Deans, provosts, and the chancellor: Do more. Do anything. And lead us into a better future with genuine, human empathy, not a robot.’ She concluded.
The Vanderbilt Hustler, the school’s official newspaper, wrote a scathing article about the tone-deaf letter.
Another student, Samuel Lu, a sophomore, told the student paper: ‘It’s hard to take a message seriously when I know that the sender didn’t even take the time to put their genuine thoughts and feelings into words. In times of tragedies such as this, we need more, not less humanity.’
Outrage about the letter quickly spread from the student body to the rest of the country, as news outlets and social media personalities unified in condemning it.
Note to everyone, everywhere. If you're sending an emotionally fraught message—a breakup letter, condolence, etc., don't even think about using an AI chatbot. Just don't. https://t.co/QF79DZfDPj
— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) February 21, 2023
Another user remarked that the ‘laziness’ and ‘lack of thought’ behind the letter that was supposed to console students after the tragic shooting at MSU shows people ‘All [they] need to know about these DEI positions.’
The laziness and lack of thought tells you all you need to know about these DEI positions.
— Andrew Talbot (@AndrewTalbotUSA) February 21, 2023
Letter written by ChatGPT
The two diversity deans implicated in sending the letter, Nicole Joseph and Hasina Mohyuddin – were asked to temporarily step down while the Peabody EDI office’ reviews’ the situation, Peabody’s Dean of Education Camilla P. Benbow said in a statement.
Benbow claimed that the letter was not the norm for the office, saying that the ‘development and distribution’ of the email ‘did not follow Peabody’s normal processes,’ adding that she and other officials were not aware of the issue ‘before it was sent.’
Benbow insisted she remains ‘personally saddened by the loss of life and injuries at Michigan State’ and was so ‘deeply troubled that a communication from my administration so missed the crucial need for personal connection and empathy during a time of tragedy.’
Still, some were not convinced of the universities apology, with the Daily Beast mocking it in a tweet.
Officials at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College are very, very sorry after getting caught using generative AI to pen a message to the community about the recent mass shooting at Michigan State University, they said. https://t.co/IX1tNDPSyp
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) February 21, 2023
‘While we believe in the message of inclusivity expressed in the email, using ChatGPT to generate communications on behalf of our community in a time of sorrow and in response to a tragedy contradicts the values that characterize Peabody College,’ her email read, according to Buzzfeed News.
‘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 must learn about AI.’
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