Paradigm Moment with ChatGPT?
Last summer, Payton MacDonald, chair of the Music Department, and I, went on a hike. Payton, in addition to being a talented musician, is also an endurance athlete. I am neither, but I do like exercise and hiking, and this was a good way to merge mutual loves. We talked about many topics, from the personal—our growing up experiences, our families, our joys and worries in life—to the professional—academic leadership, student success, and the culture of higher education. One of the subjects we found ourselves discussing was artificial intelligence. We grappled with how it has impacted, and likely would further reshape, the learning enterprise going forward. We didn’t resolve its benefits and liabilities, but we both agreed it was here and we should actively consider how to harness it for good. One outcome of that conversation was my charge to both the Faculty Senate Technology Council and the Technology Across the Curriculum Committee to “investigate the use of AI in higher education and report on implementation ideas for WP.” I look forward to these reports.
In mid-December, I was driving to New York to visit my mother. In addition to enjoying my Spotify playlist, I often listen to The Daily, a New York Times podcast. That day’s story was titled, Did Artificial Intelligence Just Get too Smart? The focus was a just-released revolutionary advancement in AI, ChatGPT. Likely you’ve now heard of it, but in that moment, I found myself at such rapt attention that I needed to stop early at a service station on the Merritt Parkway to take a break. I had to recenter my focus on driving safely on that narrow and highly curved highway.

In his 1969 book, The Age of Discontinuity, Peter Drucker coined the term “the knowledge economy,” defined as an economic system in which the production of goods and services is based principally on knowledge-intensive activities. Imparting and creating knowledge is at the root of what colleges do. The human brain is our specialty; students and society are our canvas. Hence, we will always be relevant because we have fundamentally always been about knowledge. ChatGPT, however, is an AI paradigm step beyond Wikipedia, Siri/Alexa, and chatbots, arguably into the world of knowledge production and synthesis.
GPT stands for Generative Pre-Trained Transformer, an ominous-sounding phrase that is defined as a language model relying on deep learning that can generate human-like texts based on a given text-based input. In brief, not only can it answer simple questions like a standard chatbot, but it can also help one to compose texts or collective content such as might be useful for the crafting of an email, producing a poem, writing an essay, solving a complex math equation, or writing computer code. Furthermore, the nature of the questions asked of it can be complex and multifaceted, and it learns as the user offers follow-ups to sharpen the output provided. Right now, the tool is free for use, and commonly at the maximum users possible, as the company hoovers up information designed to reduce errors, increase its efficiency, and reduce or eliminate harmful or deceitful responses.
My inner English minor in college, coupled with the broader question of who can and should impart and create knowledge, was what caused me to pull over on the Merritt. This felt like a brave new world moment we’d entered. Instinctually, I don’t believe it spells the end of the centrality of faculty to the knowledge arena, but it does in my mind mean we need to quicken our consideration of how technology can be both appropriately utilized, and shaped, for learning facilitation. It is in THIS effort that our society depends. Colleagues on the Technology Council and on TAC can be helpful to us, but I invite all departments to reflect on this matter, and if you have not yourself, read an article or two; a few are provided below.
Payton has this enormously interesting way of merging his interests through the vehicle of Sonic Peaks. Such integrative and creative thinking, I believe, is important to the opportunities of our moment—implementing a new Strategic Plan and building sharper institutional brand distinction. But this moment also requires us to grapple with our discomforts, what may portend to be a uniquely revolutionary innovation in AI being one currently on my mind.

D’Augustino, S. (2023, January 12). ChatGPT advice academics can use right now. Inside Higher Ed.
Huang, K. (2023, January 16). Alarmed by AI chatbots, universities start revamping how they teach. The New York Times.
McMurtrie, B. (2023, January 5). Teaching: Will ChatGPT change the way you teach? Chronicle of Higher Education.
McMurtrie, B. (2022, December 13). AI and the future of undergraduate writing. Chronicle of Higher Education.

Academic News
Academic Affairs Mid-Semester Update Presentation. The Provost and Associate Provosts will be providing a virtual update via Zoom to the campus on important and exciting activities. Faculty and staff are welcome. Friday, February 10, 12:30-1:15 p.m.
Restructuring in the School of Continuing and Professional Education (SCPE). As announced by President Helldobler in December, the WP Online Student Success Team has moved into the School of Continuing and Professional Education under the direction of Associate Provost Kara Rabbitt, who will serve as Interim Executive Director of SCPE. As part of this reconfiguration, I am also pleased to announce that WP Youth Programs, which provides opportunities to elementary, middle, and high school students to engage in robust school year and summer programming to prepare for career and college success, has joined the College of Education. Following the departure of Iris DiMaio for a promotional opportunity last fall, Youth Programs is now led by Interim Assistant Director Kim Wolfe, who is working with Dean Amy Ginsberg in support of the College of Education’s mission to serve as a premier resource for diverse communities.
National Exposure for our Pre-Doctoral Fellows Program. On January 18, WP sponsored a national webinar linked to our Pre-Doctoral Fellows Program. The webinar was offered concurrently with the launch of our search for a second cohort of Fellows. The webinar featured Sarita Brown, President of Excelencia in Education, the nation’s premier authority on accelerating Latino student success in higher education. Approximately 60 persons from around the country attended, some of whom we anticipate will apply for one of three pre-doctoral fellow opportunities at WP in Chemistry, Teacher Education, and Special Education.
COSH Faculty Gather with Passaic County Community College Science Faculty to Talk Student Success. In December, faculty from both institutions gathered for lunch to learn about what one another are doing to support student success in the sciences. Multimillion-dollar grants undergird key initiatives in both communities, and what is happening and has been learned was discussed. Future opportunities include what might be an integrated What Works for Student Success conference for the collective faculty communities.
Welcome Rhonda Gordon! Academic Affairs is pleased to welcome Rhonda Gordon to the team in the Provost’s Office as the new Budget Director following the retirement of Meg Guenther. Rhonda brings a breadth of budgetary and grant management experience from her years of work with Columbia University. Deans, chairs, and administrative support staff in the Academic Affairs Division, please use her as a resource and anticipate that she will likely be communicating with you at some point.
Facts & Figures
  • 70 percent. The percentage of full-time faculty with posted office hours in Navigate. Goal: 100 percent.

  • 3 and 2. Median hours per week and number of days per week of posted office hours by full-time faculty in Navigate. Goal for all: 3 and 2.

  • 80 percent vs. 84.3 percent. Percentage of first-year, full-time freshmen who re-enrolled for the spring semester by spring census in 2022 vs. the percentage this year as of 1/23/23.
Posted recently to LinkedIn in which the user asked ChatGPT what the number one quote in the world was:
The Provost’s Office is Claudia T., Claudia C., Jonathan, Kara, Rhonda, Sandy, and Josh. You can reach us at 973.720.2122 • [email protected]
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