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A rash of articles has signaled the looming death of higher education as a consequence of ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence chatbot that allows you to have human-like conversations and provides readers with an assortment of information on virtually any imaginable topic. It can produce content in minutes if not seconds, and, as a result, is a truly stunning tool. The alarm has been sounded, from The Atlantic proclaiming “the college essay is dead” to the New York Post welcoming readers “to the new age of academic dishonesty.” The Wall Street Journal’s tech columnist, in an experiment, resubmitted her 12th-grade AP Literature high school essay using the technology, and received a passing grade from her instructor. “The accuracy and the data will get better fast,” AI experts told her. “When that day comes, we’ll have the writing equivalent of a scientific calculator.”

But will those students who access free, easy, and speedy information cause university education to come to an end? Will students ever again outline, draft, and redraft those five- to ten- to twenty-five-page papers? Will dissertations emerge, Terminator-like, half-human and half-machine? Will bots, able to produce reams of information with lightning speed, replace faculty?  

I do not think so. 

Faculty, with their disciplinary expertise, dedication to student success, and unique personalities, are the heart and soul of the teaching and learning enterprise. They will continue to be vital to students’ futures. They will continue to teach students to read carefully, think deeply, and write well. They will instill values and inspire integrity. Time spent discussing life’s meaning inside and outside the classroom will be forever essential. Their enthusiastic and heartfully rendered graduate school recommendations will continue to be sought, and those delightful all-too-hurried hallway chats between classes in which the seminar’s debates continue will never be replaced by machines.

The challenge for students, of course, is not one of replaceability, but of ethics. In values-driven institutions like Yeshiva University, where I am currently the provost, or the College of the Holy Cross, where I spent my first tenure years, students are immersed in traditional values and moral foundations forged by communities of faith. In these institutions, students learn to appreciate the value of making principled choices. They are urged to use intellectual resources responsibly. They are reminded that they answer to a power even higher than the dean or provost. Undeniably, there will be outliers even in faith-based colleges, but the preponderance of students will reject deception in favor of honoring the codes of conduct they are expected to uphold. 

While some students may access ChatGPT innocently as they seek answers to questions that intrigue and perplex, others may use the bot to complete an assignment. Those who reproduce a bot’s writings without attribution are cheating. Students who cheat will compromise their own sense of honesty and integrity and, just as important for their futures, will weaken their own career prospects. Cheaters will not have developed the intellectual and practical skills and knowledge necessary for success in the workplace. A robot can never teach teamwork, emotional intelligence, or soft skills. It is our responsibility as higher education professionals to convey to students that they will be hurting themselves, damaging their professional and reputational prospects, and, in the process, compromising the moral principles families and schools have tried to inculcate.

Faith-based universities are uniquely positioned to play a leading role in this effort. Often calling on students to spend parts of their day studying ancient texts during what would be, on any other campus, time spent at fraternity and sorority parties or club sports, these universities have long sought to develop in students a willingness to sacrifice efficiency in the name of ethics.

Undoubtedly, it takes courage not to cheat, especially when students know their classmates may be engaging in dishonest conduct. The temptation of technological misuse may overcome even the most faithful. But those who stay true to their values should take comfort in knowing no one will be able to ChatGPT his or her way to professional or personal success. The media can fret over nobody being prepared for how AI will transform academia as technology continues to advance. But morality, even amidst the machines’ allure, will continue to write the true path forward.

Dr. Selma Botman is the provost and vice president for academic affairs at Yeshiva University. 

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Image by Kristin Hardwick licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped. 

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