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University Leadership Suggest Using AI to Replace Striking Grad Students

Big Brains

The Daily Beast reports that a dean at Boston University suggested using generative AI to replace the work of striking graduate students.

The head-scratching proposition was made in a Wednesday email to university faculty and was one of several suggestions regarding how to "manage course discussion sections and labs" impacted by the Boston University Graduate Worker Union's (BUGWU) ongoing protests, according to the Beast. It was sent by Stan Sclaroff, who serves as the university's Dean of Arts & Sciences.

In addition to some reportedly very normal recommendations for more effectively managing workloads without the help of their grad students, Sclaroff inexplicably decided to throw in a few more "creative ways in which, we have heard, some faculty are adapting their course formats and using technology to serve their students."

Among those suggestions? Per the Beast, the recommendation that professors "engage generative AI tools to give feedback or facilitate 'discussion' on readings or assignments."

Generative AI tools have undeniably made big waves in the world of academia. The "let's replace protesting graduate employees with AI scabs" idea, though, is certainly a new one.

https://twitter.com/gradworkersofBU/status/1773393806152348085

Demoralizing

The BUGWU's strike, which began on March 20, is the latest in a years-long string of grad student protests around the country, as student workers argue that the oft-meager stipends they receive in exchange for their work at the university pale in comparison to American higher education's skyrocketing yearly tuition costs.

This appears to be the first time, though, that a university was caught mulling whether automation might be a sound means of supplanting striking employees and students. Which, considering the complex work that grad students do in addition to the flaws that still riddle AI-powered chatbots, it wouldn't be.

An unnamed faculty member who spoke to the Beast noted their surprise at the wild AI recommendation, given that the university has mostly discussed automated tools like ChatGPT when chewing over how to "prevent our students from irresponsibly using generative AI in class and assigned work."

"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," the anonymous faculty member told the Beast. "It's honestly pretty shocking."

The faculty member also said the suggestion that educators could be replaced with automation was "demoralizing, for sure."

"You have critical, interesting, and accomplished professors," they told the Beast, "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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