Boston University Suggests Replacing Striking Grad Students With AI

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

Boston University administrators recommended that faculty members use generative AI tools in classrooms due to the BU Graduate Workers Union strike.

In an email sent to faculty members on Wednesday that was seen by The Daily Beast, the BU Dean of Arts & Sciences Stan Sclaroff provided recommendations for staff to “manage course discussion sections and labs that are impacted by the BUGWU strike.”

“Given the disciplinary and pedagogical breadth across the College, there are a wide-range of approaches that can be taken,” Sclaroff wrote. “We know that one size does not fit all. However, in the hope that they can be useful and serve as inspiration for brainstorming, we have provided below some general guidance and examples of approaches that could be utilized during this time.”

While most suggestions were tame, such as assigning readings and combining discussion sections, Sclaroff also “listed some creative ways in which, we have heard, some faculty are adapting their course formats and using technology to serve their students.” This included a recommendation that they, “Engage generative AI tools to give feedback or facilitate ‘discussion’ on readings or assignments.”

The email has been met with widespread criticism among faculty and BUGWU members alike. The BUGWU responded to a post on X about the AI recommendation saying, “Yikes! Pretty telling of how little BU values our labor!”

“For some bewildering reason, they decided to throw in an extremely non-conventional and ultimately self-damaging suggestion that we just use ChatGPT to do the work,” said a faculty member who spoke with The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity. “It’s honestly pretty shocking.”

The faculty member added that BU’s administration's recommendation came as a surprise largely because most discussions surrounding generative AI in classrooms are about how the school can “prevent our students from irresponsibly using generative AI in class and assigned work.”

“It’s demoralizing, for sure,” the faculty member said. They later added, “You have critical, interesting, and accomplished professors who are, like me, baffled by this belief that you can just deliver a quality, higher education experience through the punch of a button.”

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The total cost of attendance at Boston University is currently $90,207 for the 2024/2025 academic year, according to the BU website. A press release from the union noted that grad student workers are paid stipends that range between $27,000 to $40,000 per year. Meanwhile, the living wage for Boston is roughly $62,000 per year.

The BUGWU, which is a part of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 509 and represents roughly 3,000 graduate student workers, began its strike on Monday following failed contract negotiations with the school two weeks ago. The union is calling for better health care coverage, childcare subsidies, and higher pay.

“BU’s conduct continues to signal that they do not value the contributions of the workers that keep this university running,” SEIU Local 509 president David Foley said in a statement.

BU and the BUGWU did not respond when reached for comment.

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