Vanderbilt University’s Peabody School has apologized to students for using artificial intelligence to write an email about a mass shooting at another university, saying the distribution of the note did not follow the school’s usual processes.
Last Friday, the Tennessee-based school emailed its student body to address the tragedy at Michigan State that killed three students and injured five more people: “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,” reads the letter in part, as first reported by the Vanderbilt Hustler, a student newspaper.
At the end of the school’s email was a surprising line: “Paraphrase from OpenAI’s ChatGPT AI language model, personal communication, February 15, 2023,” read a parenthetical in smaller font.
Following an outcry from students about the use of AI to write a letter about community during human tragedy, the associate dean of Peabody sent an apology note the next day. Nicole Joseph, one of the three signatories of the original letter, called using ChatGPT “poor judgment,” according to the Vanderbilt Hustler.
On Tuesday, Vanderbilt said Joseph and assistant dean Hasina Mohyuddin, another signer of the email, have stepped back from their responsibilities while the school conducts a complete review.
“The development and distribution of the initial email did not follow Peabody’s normal processes providing for multiple layers of review before being sent. The university’s administrators, including myself, were unaware of the email before it was sent,” according to a statement Tuesday to CNN from Camilla P. Benbow, the Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development.
Since it was made available in late November, ChatGPT has been used to generate original essays, stories and song lyrics in response to user prompts. It has drafted research paper abstracts that fooled some scientists. Some CEOs have even used it to write emails or do accounting work.
While it has gained traction among users, it has also raised some concerns, including about inaccuracies, its potential to perpetuate biases and spread misinformation, and the ability to help students cheat.
Vanderbilt’s letter also included reference to “recent Michigan shootings,” though only one occurred.
“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,” Benbow said. “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.”
Rachael Perrotta, editor in chief of the Vanderbilt student newspaper, said that students told her “they are outraged about this situation and confused as to what prompted administrators to turn to ChatGPT to write their message about the Michigan State shooting.”
CNN’s Samantha Kelly contributed to this report.