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from Ray Schroeder, Senior Fellow at UPCEA

Supporting the Faculty Member Fearing GenAI

The advent of Generative AI has hit higher education with the force of an earthquake, deeply shaking many faculty members who have serious concerns for their careers.

IBM reports that 40% of the workforce will require reskilling due to the advent of genAI. And, that is just in the next three years!

Imagine reading reports that after all of the years of preparation and professional practice, your career is threatened by newly-developed large language models (LLM) that can conduct research; write reports; create curricula and courses; teach and tutor students; and provide detailed reports on student progress with active, adaptive paths to ensure all students meet essential outcomes. All of these developments have come in the virtual blink of an eye. Last fall, very few faculty members had heard of the Large Language Model called Generative Pre-training Transformer (GPT). Now, LLMs are everywhere in the news and have proliferated into a number of models supporting many chatbots and other apps.

These concerns and the resulting anxiety have affected senior, mid-career, and new faculty members alike. The anxieties are shared by many staff and administrators. As we open the university doors this fall, we need to address the anxiety and help resolve the very real and the imagined fears.

First, we must begin with a realistic assessment of the current state of GenAI as well as the realistic expectation of continuing rapid development and expansion in the coming couple of years. We must not understate the importance, scope and relevance of the advent of GenAI. One can justifiably argue that this is bigger than anything those who are living today have ever seen. Bill Gates was quoted in Time magazine earlier this year:

The development of AI is as fundamental as the creation of the microprocessor, the personal computer, the Internet, and the mobile phone… It will change the way people work, learn, travel, get health care, and communicate with each other.

Generative AI will pervade societies across continents in the coming year. By 2025, some one and one-half billion jobs will have been significantly changed by this new tool. Just as the advent of the personal computer revolutionized education at all levels, workplaces around the globe and personal lives, so too will GenAI bring about such sea changes, but they will come much faster than they did with personal computers. This will not require new hardware to be produced, purchased and installed. Instead, it will require a spectrum of training and development for students, workers and casual users to achieve optimum utility. We cannot afford to let our valuable personnel become frozen in fear.

Leo S. Lo, Dean and Professor of the College of University Libraries and Learning Services at the University of New Mexico, examines the human feelings and associated anxiety that arises in workers who fear their careers will have to change in the article “Human Meets AI: Helping Educators Navigate Their Emotions About Technological Change.” He suggests that this is to be expected:

The thought of a classroom driven by an AI tutor, curriculum being curated by algorithms or administrative tasks being managed entirely by AI tools, while fascinating prospects, can incite anxiety and fear among educators. Yet, in the face of these psychological obstacles, it’s essential to remember that resistance is a natural human response to change and an inherent part of our human condition. It’s not indicative of weakness or failure. Recognizing and addressing these fears is crucial in smoothly navigating a major shift in education…. I knew that for a fundamental transformation like this to take root, leadership was critical, so I led by example, modeling the kind of change I hoped to see among staff.

Among the concerns today are:

  • Will this be the end of my career?
  • Will I be able to learn enough about this technology to use it effectively?
  • Will my students know more about this than I do?
  • Does this mean that I must now trash decades of developing syllabi and lesson plans?
  • Where will I find the time to learn about GenAI?
  • Who will help me?

One more response we have seen is to simply ignore the genAI with the hope that it will “go away” or it will not impact one’s career. That is the most serious of responses. As Darren Coxon writes in The EducAIte Newsletter:

If we do not do all we can to learn about this shift as quickly as possible. Then we should be scared. Because what we are standing on the edge of is an inevitable shift into a new way of living, learning and working. A new intelligence has been unleashed on us, and it is only going to become cleverer. We can either look the other way while our students lose all interest in us, or we can do something about it.

So, what should we do?

  1. We should implement a university-wide study this semester to determine how genAI will impact faculty and staff positions in every college and department. Will fewer faculty and staff be needed? Will fewer or different staffing and curricula be required? This must be done in an open and transparent process.
  2. We should provide training to deans, directors, chairs, and staff in our health services units to prepare them to discuss these issues with our employees. Services should be cultivated for a range of responses from panic and depression to even more serious reactions.
  3. Our Human Resources department should prepare workshops and associated materials for examining career futures as well as opportunities for upskilling and reskilling for employees who will likely be impacted.

This is emerging at a time when our “market” of new high school graduates is predicted to fall by 15% as the 2025 enrollment cliff looms large, and in an environment of more and more businesses and governments dropping baccalaureate requirements for new employees. Budgets will shrink and the pressure will be on to become more efficient in operations.

The clock is ticking. What is your institution doing to prepare to address employee anxieties and impending shifts in staffing?


This article was originally published in InsideHigherEd’s Transforming Teaching and Learning Blog. 

A man (Ray Schroeder) is dressed in a suit with a blue tie and wearing glasses.

Ray Schroeder is Professor Emeritus, Associate Vice Chancellor for Online Learning at the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) and Senior Fellow at UPCEA. Each year, Ray publishes and presents nationally on emerging topics in online and technology-enhanced learning. Ray’s social media publications daily reach more than 12,000 professionals. He is the inaugural recipient of the A. Frank Mayadas Online Leadership Award, recipient of the University of Illinois Distinguished Service Award, the United States Distance Learning Association Hall of Fame Award, and the American Journal of Distance Education/University of Wisconsin Wedemeyer Excellence in Distance Education Award 2016.

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