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A fixation with ChatGPT emerged just as educators were grappling with more urgent questions. But first…

Decent grades

When professors at the University of Minnesota Law School asked ChatGPT to take several of their exams, the chatbot earned on average a C+. ChatGPT is apparently better-suited to business school, earning a B to B- on a Wharton professor’s test.

This is not the sort of performance you would write home to your tuition-paying parents about, especially in the era of grade inflation. Nonetheless, they are passing grades.

Much has been written about artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT posing a threat to educators. They fear that generative AI programs could help students, whether they’re middle schoolers or MBA candidates, cheat. Just a little bit of human input, after all, might bump that B- up to a B+. Or maybe a B- is fine for a student who didn’t bother to read a thing.

ChatGPT’s emergence coincides with a different sort of debate over merit and education. The US Supreme Court in its current term is expected to overturn or sharply limit affirmative action.

One of the arguments that Harvard University, the University of North Carolina and their peers in elite education make in defending their current admissions policies is that they need to be able to take into account all sorts of intangible factors beyond a candidate’s test scores and grades — race, yes, but also the ways someone’s interests and values and life experiences might complement and enrich those of their classmates.

Otherwise, the argument goes, the Princetons of the world would be taken over by test-acing robots instead of future global humanitarians, MacArthur geniuses and squash champions.

The resistance to this is also playing out in the announcements made in recent weeks and months by some of the country’s most prestigious law and medical schools that they will no longer participate in the US News and World Report rankings. That annual list, and its prominence in the landscape of American higher education, has, in the words of Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken, trapped schools and flattened a diverse educational landscape with “a small set of one-size-fits-all metrics.”

ChatGPT could give new urgency to finding more holistic, humanistic ways of teaching and testing, ways that separate out a student’s (or an applicant’s) inherent talent and temperament from the work product they can create with the increasingly powerful tools at their disposal.

That’s a separate question, though, from how much generative AI will change the world students graduate into. If ChatGPT can be an OK law school student, maybe it can be an OK lawyer. And to someone looking for legal advice, it’s the work product —and often, the price — that matters.

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