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In Age of Advanced AI, Harvard College Dean Khurana Calls on Students to Avoid ‘Shortcuts’

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With advancements in artificial intelligence potentially enabling academic integrity violations, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana called on undergraduates to learn for themselves in an interview last month.

The AI algorithm ChatGPT launched this fall, granting users the ability to generate paragraphs of text from inputted prompts within seconds. Though its applications are widespread, some educators fear students could use the tool as an aid in completing assignments.

Despite the buzz, Khurana said gathering and processing information in new ways has been happening “for eons.”

“Obviously, something like this represents another type of way that one can gather information, but I always return back to, ‘What is the purpose of a Harvard College education?’” Khurana said. “The goal is to think for yourself — not read a summary of what other people have done, a summary that might be inaccurate.”

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Khurana said he hopes students opt to attend Harvard “not for a credential” but to become “lifelong learners.”

“There have always been shortcuts. There’s always ways to avoid thinking for yourself,” Khurana said. “Ultimately, the person who’s being educated has to decide whether they want to be educated.”

Khurana — who also serves as chair of the Honor Council, a body which adjudicates allegations related to academic integrity — said whether or not the use of AI to complete an assignment would constitute academic dishonesty falls to course instructors.

“We leave decisions around pedagogy and assignments and evaluation up to the faculty,” he said.

Khurana also discussed the following topics:

Mental Health

During the interview, Khurana emphasized the importance of providing additional support to students following the news of three undergraduate deaths this semester — the highest number in recent years.

Some students have expressed concerns over Harvard’s mental health approach, including a University Health Services policy which requires students undergoing severe mental health struggles to enter into contracts that may include time away from the College.

“Every student is so important. They’re a unique, wonderful human being. No one is a liability,” Khurana said. “We are so lucky to have our students, and I want to make sure that every student recognizes that they are valued.”

Khurana added that University mental health policies are constructed with students’ best interests in mind.

“Our intent is to create conditions and situations where people can get the help they need,” Khurana said. “And in receiving it, then come back, or while they’re here, have the kind of Harvard experience we want them to have.”

Faculty Deans

Last month, Khurana announced interim Leverett House Faculty Deans Daniel G. Deschler and Eileen E. Reynolds ’86, who took up their posts this summer, will be appointed permanent deans of the house.

“The feedback that we’ve received from the entire Leverett community has been incredibly positive,” Khurana said. “I felt it was really important to listen to that community about how they thought about Dan and Eileen.”

Khurana also praised the 10-year tenure of Pforzheimer House Faculty Deans Anne Harrington ’82 and John R. Durant, who announced they will step down from their roles at the end of the 2022-2023 academic year.

“We want to encourage members of the Pfoho community to nominate and get involved with the selection of the next set of faculty deans,” Khurana said.

Khurana, who ultimately selects the deans’ successors, said the search process begins with open nominations and the formation of a committee that includes students, the resident dean or other house staff, and affiliates of the house.

“The goal is to first work with them to develop what their kind of vision is for what they would like for the house,” Khurana said. “That allows us then to share that with prospective faculty deans. Then interviews are structured, and ultimately, a faculty dean is chosen.”

“We try to do this in a way that allows a decision by late spring,” he added.

The Crimson interviews Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana once per month during the academic year. Click here to submit a question for consideration in our next interview.

—Staff writer Vivi E. Lu can be reached at vivi.lu@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @vivielu_.

—Staff writer Leah J. Teichholtz can be reached at leah.teichholtz@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @LeahTeichholtz.

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