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University responds to emergence of ChatGPT in education

By Liam Price and Isa Sheikh

“​​The University of Notre Dame’s campus is buzzing with the recent emergence of artificial intelligence, but its implementation has sparked concerns among students and faculty about the potential loss of jobs and ethical considerations.”

That introduction wasn’t written by The Observer. Prompted with brief instructions to provide a lede — in AP style — for this story, the artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot ChatGPT offered the preceding paragraph, delivering results in a matter of seconds.

As the spring semester begins, an increasing number of conversations in classrooms, faculty offices and dorm rooms have been occurring around the potential of AI in education. In a communication to faculty, sent by the Office of Academic Standards (OAS), the chatbot is described as “a large language model, which generates text from prompts by predicting what sentences should follow prior sentences based on historical correlations of words.”

The University first took notice of ChatGPT in mid-December when a student was caught in a computer class final using the site, according to OAS director and faculty honor code officer Ardea Russo. 

The conversational software is often shocking in its speed and capability. Directed by The Observer, ChatGPT created detailed course syllabi with week-by-week specific readings, thematic poems and even songs in the voice of particular songwriters about specific topics. 

“I sit behind a desk, with my pen in hand / I’m searching for the truth, in a world so grand,” the chatbot’s simulated Taylor Swift wrote — in less than a second — in the opening of a song about student journalism.

ChatGPT is just one piece of the ongoing artificial intelligence revolution that threatens to remake the ways in which much of the professional and academic worlds function. 

For instance, Google has developed an AI model that generates music based on any text you give it; DALL-E, a project of OpenAI, the same research lab that developed ChatGPT, can create AI art with strikingly specific results. OpenAI has entered into a contract with Microsoft search engine Bing, shaking up the future of online searches. Already, most interviews conducted by The Observer are automatically transcribed using a program called Otter.ai

University response

Russo said she has been the point person on the administration’s response to ChatGPT. Under the direction of vice president and associate provost for undergraduate education Fr. Dan Groody, she has convened a faculty working group and sent two communications out to faculty members on the matter. The working group has convened experts from “all over the University,” Russo said, including two experts who work specifically on generative AI. 

Russo described the mixed reaction to ChatGPT among both faculty and administration.

“I think there are concerns and excitement,” she said, adding that “the reason I was immediately concerned about it was because of the academic integrity side of it. I think it could be a really cool technology to use. I’m not opposed to it in general. The reason I wanted to start working on it right away was because I was concerned about students using it as a shortcut, rather than as a tool to their learning.”

In her communications to faculty, Russo has outlined two approaches to addressing ChatGPT. First, creating assignments that use the chatbot as a part of the assignment itself, or secondly, designing “assignments that are ChatGPT-proof.” In guidance to faculty, Russo wrote that “the more specific your assignments are, the less ChatGPT can do.”

Russo emphasized the variability of ChatGPT response quality. The faculty guidance says that “even when the responses given are technically correct, the quality of the content varies greatly. Sometimes it does extremely good work and other times it does not.”

How ChatGPT works

ChatGPT uses a generative AI model, Nitesh Chawla said, referring to algorithms that can be used to create new content, including audio, code, images, text, simulations and videos.

Chawla is the director of the Lucy Family Institute for Data and Society and a professor of computer science and engineering at Notre Dame. He explained that like existing search engines, ChatGPT can be used to find answers to user questions. But producing a unique response in whichever form the user asks for makes ChatGPT, in Chawla’s words, “a search engine on steroids.”

ChatGPT is an “engineering marvel,” Chawla said, but it cannot actively seek out new information in the way that humans do.

“If you are given a situation that you have never ever encountered before in your life, you would go, ‘oh, I need to learn it,’” Chawla said. “Now, that is what ChatGPT is not doing. ChatGPT is basically saying, ‘you have taught me everything that I could be taught and I will answer based on what I have been taught.’”

Chawla described how the AI sources its learning through human training.

“ChatGPT is, in the simplistic way, a massive language model that has been trained with an extremely large volume of text or documents, which has also been trained with some human feedback into it, which has allowed it to learn or correct itself,” Chawla said.

Russo emphasized to The Observer that ChatGPT can, on occasion, very confidently provide incorrect information.

“The overall accuracy of ChatGPT is something we should pay attention to. How reliable is it really? I guess we don’t know that yet,” she said.

Chawla also expressed concern about the accuracy of ChatGPT and similar language models.

“ChatGPT will string words together based on what it has seen,” he said. “Now, what if those answers or their responses are not grounded?”

“We have to really be very careful and say, ‘ChatGPT is a valid tool for functions A, B and C. Do not use it beyond that,’” Chawla said. “We haven’t put those guardrails up yet.”

Generative AI in the classroom

The administration’s largely open-ended approach has allowed faculty to take disparate approaches to ChatGPT and other AI tools. While some have outright banned usage of the site in their classes, Andrew Gould, a political science professor, wrote new sections into his syllabi about AI tools, allowing students to consult the program.

“You may consult artificial intelligence (AI) technology such as ChatGPT. You must still convey the truth about your sources and the truth about your own contributions to the essay,” Gould’s “European Politics” syllabus specifies.

“However, AI technologies have not been trained on material about recent events. Moreover, AI technologies can produce output that is incorrect. If you quote or paraphrase from AI output in your written work, you must cite the AI source.”

AI technologies “can respond to queries with useful summaries and syntheses of conventional wisdom,” Gould told The Observer. 

“I found that asking [short response] questions that are similar to the kinds of questions I asked my students, the very good ones that I’ve gotten from ChatGPT seem like B+ or B answers to me, but very good responses,” Gould said.

When asked about the possibility of a student attempting to pass off a ChatGPT essay as their own work, Gould said he has “zero” concern.

“​​It’s very difficult to, in an unacknowledged way, use ChatGPT, add some course-specific material and not reveal that ChatGPT played a role in formulation of the argument or the evidence or the overall structure,” he said.

Dan Lindley, another political science professor, disagrees, forbidding use of generative AI in his classes. He said the development of AI in education is taking academia “by storm,” and called the recent developments “a frightful prospect” and “bad for education.”

“I think it’s a potential threat to the learning process. Anytime students can take the easy way out, it’s not as good as the hard way in,” Lindley said. “Learning how to write is not easy, and learning how to write is associated with clarifying your own thoughts and trying to simplify things that are difficult. And ChatGPT takes that all away.”

Gould said that in his experimentation with the technology, there are gaps in the site’s current ability. 

“Asking questions that really take some expertise, it seems to fall flat, so I would not be impressed if the student said in an email, ‘here’s this comment’ [in response to a course question]. I would think the student didn’t really get it,” Gould said.

For instance, Gould said that if prompted to provide a realist theory of how the European Union formed, ChatGPT provides a decent, if insufficient argument.

“You don’t get to a systematic answer,” Gould said. “It’ll be true things, but there’s not some overarching reasoning to it.”

He’s nonetheless impressed with the site’s abilities to work so quickly.

“But getting a B+ in a half a second or less. That’s pretty impressive. Like you could say, ‘oh gee,’ but to me, it seems pretty powerful. And then areas outside of my expertise, the answers seem great,” he said.

Challenging status quo education

Susan Blum, an anthropologist who most recently wrote the book “Ungrading: Why Rating Students Undermines Learning (and What to Do Instead),” said the emergence of AI prompts larger questions about the education system itself.

“We talk about academic integrity, but there’s really a deeper issue that we almost never talk about, which is, what is the purpose of education? Why are the students there? What do they actually want to get out of what they’re learning,” she said.

Blum, who’s also written a book specifically about plagiarism and college culture, approached the issue of AI being used in the classroom with a retrospective view of technology affecting educational environments throughout her lifetime. For example, she said she remembers the advent of calculators, which some worried would have a detrimental effect on students’ abilities in math.

“‘You had to do the math yourself by hand, because students have to learn how to do math.’ Well, maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but I use a calculator all the time,” Blum said. “People would think now that it’s a very silly argument that we should forbid calculators.”

“I see ChatGPT as another development in the continuous invention of new technologies that will have a role to play in our lives. I see this as an educational problem, not an ethical problem,” she added.

Gould similarly believes that generative AI programs “have the potential to transform radically the nature of work throughout the economy throughout the world,” and for professors to implement a “blanket policy not to consult it or use it is a mistake.”

“Do we sit students in a room and have them write by hand so that they can’t consult anything? Some people are proposing that,” Blum said. “Or maybe we don’t ask boring questions that students don’t want to write. Maybe we have to really rethink our teaching.”

Blum said AI technologies will be practical for students hoping to achieve high test scores, making it so appealing for students that a ban might not be effective.

“Until we have more interesting stuff, this is going to be something that students turn to, and I think forbidding it won’t work,” Blum said.

The University is conscious of those ideas. Russo said that courses should have a deeper aim to encourage learning among students, above the simple pursuit of grades.

“I think that the more motivated they are to learn the material because it’s interesting and relevant, the less they’ll want to go online and just turn in something. I feel like our students should want to be better than a machine,” Russo said. 

“And so I’m hoping that that will be enough to deter students. You know, when you’re at a dinner with friends and a conversation topic comes up, you’re gonna want to chime in on the conversation, not be like, ‘well, let me see, let me put this into ChatGPT and see what ChatGPT thinks about it,’” she added.

Implications for the future

Russo, Chawla, Blum, Gould and Lindley all shared an agreement that generative AI is still in its infancy and will continue to grow and adapt. 

“I think there’s a general awareness that we’re in a very early period of ChatGPT and I understand there’s a new version coming out, which will be even better. I know that the current version doesn’t know anything that happened past 2021, but the new version will be updated. So I think there’s a general awareness that we want to kind of wait and see where it goes,” Russo said.  

Lindley argued that the future of AI’s implications range far beyond chatbots, discussing potential dangers of AI that he has encountered in his fields of expertise.

“If you were studying weapons, you’d be kind of attuned to what might happen with AI, because there’s going to be autonomous weapons out there. And what are their rules going to be? How are they going to be programmed to kill?” Lindley said. “Yes, they’re going to kill and then what’s gonna happen?”

Gould said ChatGPT will continue to improve and get rid of current flaws in the content it produces. “That’s why I think we should engage, not prohibit,” he said. 

He discussed the broader societal impacts of such technology, which he predicts will rapidly take shape in the years to come.

“I think we’re just at the beginning of figuring out what the impact is. I have shared with seminar students my concern that employers hire us for our skills and abilities to do things for them. They do not hire us for our emotions,” Gould said.

“So I think we, and people entering the job market, have to ask ourselves, ‘what can I do that AI cannot do?,’ or ‘what can I do with AI that AI cannot do by itself?’ That, to me, seems like a pretty serious question. And so yeah, there’s the danger that AI can replace the kind of general skills and intellectual work that we train our students for.”

Contact Liam Price at lprice3@nd.edu and Isa Sheikh at isheikh@nd.edu

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News

Panelists discuss dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline

In 2010, more than 3 million students were suspended from school. Local leaders who spoke at Notre Dame on Tuesday evening said such disciplinary measures often further entrench the school-to-prison pipeline.

“You can’t understand the American system of mass incarceration without understanding the American education system,” Justin McDevitt, the assistant regional director for alumni and reentry services with Notre Dame Programs for Education in Prison (NDPEP), said.

The Tuesday evening panel discussion focused on dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline and was moderated by McDevitt. The event was hosted by Student Government and co-sponsored by the Alliance for Catholic Education, the Center for Social Concerns and the Education, Schooling & Society Program.

Fitting within the larger context of Walk the Walk Week, programming that focuses on issues of justice and equity across campus and the country, the discussion centered around actions currently being taken to dismantle the pipeline and how the Notre Dame community can promote active change.

Canneth Lee, a South Bend councilman and pastor, said that “the pipeline refers to the policies and practices that disproportionately affect students of color and that push students of color from school to the criminal justice system.” He also said the pipeline disproportionately affects students with disabilities and students from low-income families. 

Maria McKenna, a professor in both Africana Studies and the Education, Schooling & Society Program, explained that education has been politicized since the beginning of public education in the mid-1800s. She pointed to literacy tests, school segregation and poll taxes, citing them examples of how Black people have been historically excluded from education.

McKenna said that this marginalization continues today.

“We have continued to marginalize, to criminalize and to exclude people of color from the American education system and this is how we ended up with a system of punishment and reward and absolute black-and-white ideas about what is acceptable behavior in schools,” she said.

Kareemah Fowler, the chief financial officer for the South Bend Community School Corporation (SBCSC), said many students who act out in school are suffering from unresolved trauma and a lack of positive reinforcement at home. 

These students come to school needing more help and support, but the school isn’t able to provide it, she explained.

“We respond with discipline instead of with support because that’s often cheaper and easier in some ways,” McDevitt said. 

As a result of disciplinary policies, McDevitt said students are suspended or sent home, rather than being at school where they can learn and be loved by meaningful mentors and role models.

“We must work to reduce punitive measures, such as suspensions and expulsions, and instead focus on restorative justice practices that help students learn from their mistakes and make amends,” Lee said. 

Fowler discussed the importance of aligning the South Bend school’s strategic plan with policies to dismantle the pipeline. In her position as CFO, she worked to pass a tax referendum to provide students who need extra support and resources. She said she also worked to supply teachers and staff with resources to deal with these issues and learn how to implement restorative justice practices. 

Fowler said schools and families can’t face these issues alone.

“One of the pillars of the strategic plan was community partners because we know that these are systemic issues,” she said. 

Support for communities happens at the local level, McKenna said. That support could take the shape of mentoring a child, volunteering at the polls for local elections or supporting a community racial or social justice group, she added.

“Everyone [has] a role to play in dismantling what we think of as the school-to-prison pipeline,” she said.

Contact Caroline Collins at ccolli23@nd.edu

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Viewpoint

The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s education

Mahatma Gandhi once said,“If we are to reach real peace in this world, we shall have to begin with the children.” If we are to begin with the children, we are to begin with their education. A quality education contributes not only to socioeconomic progress, but also to the holistic development of the individual. I think that many, like myself, would agree with this philosophy on education — there is much more to it than training for the workforce. Still, Gandhi’s proposition begs the question: Can the education of children truly build peace? Fortunately, it can; accessible and quality education can serve as the keystone of peace within a society and ultimately, the world.

I grew up being told that my education was a privilege, not a right —that I should be grateful to have attended highly-rated public schools meant to prepare me for a successful career and a life of financial security. While I am certainly privileged to have received a quality education, I now believe that a good education is, in fact, a right. In 1948, education was recognized as a basic human right by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This means that the right to education is legally guaranteed for all, that states are obligated to protect and fulfill this right and that they can be held accountable for violating it. In my first year at Notre Dame, I gained the ability to articulate what my education means to me, as well as what it can mean for the world’s youth. If every child was able to complete secondary education, UNESCO data shows that globally, the number of poor people could be reduced by more than half. Universal access to quality education is an urgent need, but committed changemakers are needed to create a tangible impact.

I feel called to defend the right to education because I recognize the value of my own educational opportunities. Above all else, I believe that education produces hope. Confucius once said, “Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace.” My education has given me the confidence to ask difficult questions, offer my perspective and engage in discussions with experts in the field. My professors at Notre Dame have encouraged me to brainstorm innovative solutions to elusive issues, such as world peace. Drawing on John Paul Lederach’s “The Moral Imagination,” peacebuilding requires “innovative responses to impossible situations.” In the hope of creating a better future, we must step into the unknown that exists between what is and what is possible without the guarantee of success.

I live one mile away from Paterson, New Jersey, a city with a rich history dating back to its days as a mighty industrial capital. The city, though still diverse and heavily populated, is now characterized by violence, crime and drugs. I noticed educational disparities from a young age, but these disparities were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, when schools were forced to shut down. During the early days of the pandemic, the public high school dropout rate in Paterson was at an all-time high. The same resources that were provided to me — sufficient school funding, experienced teachers, textbooks and technologies — were not distributed to students living in Paterson. As my peers struggled to transition to online platforms and learn how to navigate Zoom, few realized that schools in our own county lacked the resources and capacity to even offer virtual classes. Disparities in education are present in my own community — the same disparities that impact children globally. If Paterson was used as a case study, there would undoubtedly be connections between quality of education and participation in crime and violence. Ingrained within me early on was the value of my education; it was something to be taken seriously and never for granted. Still, I have grappled with the educational discrepancies to which I have borne witness and have been empowered to search for a solution.

Anyone can be a peacebuilder, and everyone should be. Throughout my life, I have always wanted to change the world for the better, and now I am able to express my “why” (or more specifically, my “who”). I believe that children are the future; at a minimum, education creates opportunities for the future parents, leaders and changemakers of the world to determine their own paths. A quality education offers career enhancement, employment opportunities and higher earnings, and studies show that education helps reduce attitudes toward participation in violence. This is likely because a quality education encourages the development of communication skills (a critical key to conflict resolution), effective collaboration and sociopolitical participation, especially for women. As peacebuilders, our ultimate duty is to the global common good, consisting of economic prosperity, social justice and peace. Our ultimate duty is to the most vulnerable members of society, as well as those previously excluded from shaping their futures. In our increasingly globalized world, it is important to recognize our shared responsibility to protect human rights everywhere.

After all, “Violence is known; peace is the mystery.” At Notre Dame, we are imaginative and creative individuals; we must be willing to step into the unknown that exists between what is and what is possible. We must boldly question the status quo — to understand why things are as they are and attempt to make them better.

Ashlyn Poppe is a sophomore living in Pasquerilla West Hall studying global affairs and political science. She currently serves as the director of operations for BridgeND.

BridgeND is a multi-partisan political club committed to bridging the partisan divide through respectful and productive discourse. It meets on Tuesdays at 5 p.m. in Duncan Student Center W246 to learn about and discuss current political issues and can be reached at bridgend@nd.edu or on Twitter @bridge_ND.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Viewpoint

A Tale of Two Cities

You may not know it, but if you live in Chicago, Illinois, you’re actually a citizen of two cities.

One Chicago features some of the best public high schools in the country according to the U.S. News & World Report. The other Chicago is marked by the kind of school buildings where if it rains hard enough, the roof just might cave in. We typically think of educational inequity as a problem of resources. If state and local governments were simply willing to allocate more funding to schools in lower-class neighborhoods, maybe the problem could be solved, right? Not quite. The primary source of funding for the vast majority of school districts in America isn’t state or local governments, it’s the taxes collected on properties in the district. The more valuable the properties in a school district, the more funding the schools in that district receive. It is because of this system that schools in the Chicago Ridge district (on Chicago’s south side) are so underfunded that three schools share one nurse, while the Rondout District (in the suburbs to the north) can afford to pay its teachers an average of $90,000 a year and craft individualized learning plans for each of its students. According to Binyamin Applebaum (lead writer on business & economics for the New York Times’ editorial board), it’s not even as simple as just living on opposite sides of Chicago: “It can be on the same block that the town line runs through the middle of it, and if you live on one side of that line, you’re consigned to an inferior education… and if you live on the other side, you’re basically a member of a club that is sponsoring a private school essentially, for the benefit of that small group of kids.” In Chicago and many other places in the US, the disparity in education quality is so vast that students from virtually a block apart may as well live in two different cities.

If a bill were raised to amend the current school funding system, it’s easy to imagine that progressives would be the ones to champion it. But when we return to our case study of Cook County, Illinois (the county that Chicago is in), we find that progressives aren’t doing as much to promote justice in the realm of education as they claim to be. Even in a county that voted 74.2% Democrat in the last presidential election, wealthy liberals still lobbied to keep the property tax-based resource allocation system in place for their school districts. Members of a party whose platform is “providing a world-class education in every zip code” have gerrymandered Cook County’s school zones so badly that there are school districts that only have one school. So, this isn’t a question of blue vs. red or conservative vs. liberal. It is, quite literally, rich vs. poor. The property tax school-funding system is one of the greatest perpetrators of the wealth disparity problem in our country.

We live in a nation that has historically disadvantaged its lower-class citizens. Isn’t education the institution that’s supposed to set that right? Education is supposed to empower children to change their circumstances generationally. It shouldn’t be the wall that keeps them on the south side of Chicago. It should be the vehicle that brings them to the hallowed halls of the University of Notre Dame. Sometimes it can be. But by and large, the property tax system causes those who are disadvantaged in American society to become even more so, because their inferior quality of education prevents them from pursuing opportunities (like attending a trade school or university) that would allow them to break into the middle class. This fosters the sense of disenfranchisement that causes people from places of poverty to distrust America’s established methods of attaining upward mobility. I saw this firsthand in Baltimore when I tutored children from the inner city. Some of my kids had, even at their young ages, completely disassociated themselves from the “American Dream” and the idea that doing well in school would in any way change their lot in life. This mistrust also explains why there is such rampant criminal activity in areas where educational inequity is most glaring.

The question of why there is so much disparity in our country’s education system is a complex one, but the answer begins and ends with the property tax funding system. Amending this system in favor of one that allocates resources more equitably would allow children from low-income areas to develop the same sense of curiosity and self-belief as their peers in higher-income areas. Inevitably, this would entirely transform their futures. It would entirely transform cities like Chicago and Baltimore too, shattering the glass ceiling of educational inequity that divides them in two.

Oluwatoni Akintola

first-year

Nov. 29

Categories
Viewpoint

The importance of comprehensive sex education

The topic of sex tends to be taboo due to the deep embedment of abstinence over education in society. Although sex education classes can be awkward and uncomfortable, these tough conversations are worth having in order to begin normalizing and destigmatizing discussions about sex. Not only does comprehensive sex education reduce teen pregnancy rates, sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) and assault, but it provides young adults with essential information that promotes the sexual health and well-being of themselves and others. According to KQED, “comprehensive sex education” teaches that not having sex is the best way to prevent STIs and unintended pregnancies, but also offers medically accurate information about STI prevention, reproductive health, healthy relationships, consent, gender identity, LGBTQIA+ issues and more! This method of education not only reduces STI’s and teen pregnancy rates among young adults, but it also delays when teens become sexually active. However, this form of education is not as present as it should be in school curriculums.

The more common form of sex education is called “sexual risk avoidance education” which promotes abstinence and provides little to no information about contraceptives or any other means that puts sexual safety first. While abstinence is one way to reduce STIs and unwanted pregnancies, it is not something everyone is interested in practicing. By providing young adults with education about how to both have safe sex and practice abstinence, individuals have the opportunity to make the best choice for themselves and their sexuality. Talking about sex is not the same as promoting sex, rather, it provides young adults with the tools they need to make a decision around their sexual health instead of it being made for them. A common rebuttal to the advocacy for more sex education involves the belief young adults should learn about sex from their parents instead of school. While parents should be encouraged to have an open conversation about sex with their kids, they should not be the primary source of their education as they are simply not educators on this topic. Specialists in comprehensive sex education can offer an unbiased perspective about sex while providing crucial information that parents simply don’t have access to such as statistics, situation based workshops, etc. Additionally, a lack of comprehensive sex education in high school impacts individuals as they obtain more freedom in college, meaning sex education is extremely important in making sure young adults are provided with the information they need as they become more independent. To promote the health and well–being of all individuals, formal education around sex provides young adults with professional information that equips them with essential knowledge about sexual health.

While information about physical sexual health is essential, integrating ethics into sex education is just as equally important. An article from Harvard’s Graduate school of education discusses consent and stresses the importance of relationships and healthy intimacy. Education around consent should be more than how to ask for it, for young adults need to learn about why it is important and think about it in a variety of contexts to understand human morality. Standard sex education sends the message that you should ask for consent so you don’t get in trouble instead of focusing on the benefits it has in establishing healthy, well rounded relationships with others. Additionally, an emphasis on mutuality in making decisions around consent shows the importance of communication in intimate relationships. Establishing a base understanding of consent will allow young adults to develop healthy intimate relationships with others, thus minimizing instances of sexual assault. 

Comprehensive sex education teaches more than physical health, it emphasizes the essential elements of safety, protection and communication. Providing young adults with information that promotes the health and well-being of all individuals is crucial in combating issues of unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and sexual assault. Although abstinence is the best way to prevent things like pregnancy and STI’s, it is not the only solution. A combination of abstinence-based education with comprehensive sex education will not only minimize these issues but treat young adults as dignified decision makers that are aware of their bodily integrity.

Grace Sullivan is a first-year at Notre Dame studying global affairs with a minor in gender studies. In her column I.M.P.A.C.T (Intersectionality Makes Political Activist Change Transpire), she is passionate about looking at global social justice issues through an intersectional feminist lens. Outside of The Observer, she enjoys hiking, painting and being a plant mom. She can be reached at @gsulli22@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Categories
News

College Republicans and College Democrats trade jabs over inflation, abortion in midterm debate

College Republicans representative Shri Thakur and College Democrats representative Blake Ziegler sparred over inflation, abortion and crime in a debate hosted by BridgeND ahead of the midterm elections.

(Editor’s note: Ziegler is a Viewpoint columnist for The Observer)

Ziegler spent much of the debate defending President Joe Biden’s presidency and highlighting “one of the most productive legislative sessions in recent history,” while also painting the Republican Party as extremist and lacking a clear vision for the country.

Thakur criticized the Biden administration, especially for its handling of the economy, and focused primarily on cultural issues relating to education, abortion and crime.

“The Democrats have spent the last few years and really the last few decades waging a war on the American way of life and the institutions that once sustained it,” Thakur said.

On the economy, Thakur blasted the Biden administration for the record levels of inflation seen in the past year. 

“Democrats enacted a prolonged lockdown of our economy causing over 200,000 small businesses to close while ballooning total billionaire wealth by $1.7 trillion. And to make matters worse, they then went on to print $6 trillion in two years and declare war on American energy, halting the new drilling of oil and gas blocking permits and sending the price of basically everything skyrocketing,” he said.

Ziegler framed inflation as a worldwide problem not caused by any Democratic policies and highlighted the Inflation Reduction Act as a boost to the American economy. 

“The Inflation Reduction Act will lower healthcare costs and energy prices while raising Social Security payments,” he said.

The debate then turned to crime, a key talking point in the 2022 elections. Thakur blamed Democrat policies for the rise of crime in cities.

“In dozens of Democrat-run cities across the nation homicides have increased by 50%, assault by 36%,” he said. “In New York and San Francisco, Democratic prosecutors are abolishing cash bail, refusing to prosecute theft and defunding the police.”

Ziegler instead focused on root causes of crime. 

“The failures of our economy and social welfare programs have forced millions of Americans, who are disproportionately people of color, to resort to crime,” he said.

While discussion over economic policy and crime remained relatively civil, the debate became more contentious as the questions shifted toward abortion and education.

“We are two men talking about a decision we will never have to make,” Ziegler said. 

Ziegler also condemned Republicans for attacking the right to an abortion that “has been in place for 50 years” and stated that Roe v. Wade should be reinstated.

To begin his segment, Thakur began by declaring that “abortion is murder.” He argued that the unborn are “genetically distinct” human beings worthy of equal consideration and supported a federal ban on abortion justified by the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution.

“Policy making is about pragmatism. It’s about your interests. It’s not about imposing your own personal or religious views on others. I’m Jewish, I shouldn’t have to listen to Christianity to tell me when life begins,” Ziegler rebutted.

“He brought religion into this,” Thakur said in response. “You don’t need to be religious to understand the fact that human life begins at conception and that we should not be killing innocent human beings.”

On education, Thakur criticized Democrat-run states for closing schools during the pandemic and for including transgenderism into school curricula. 

“This is a war on reality and the children are the causality,” Thakur said.

Ziegler touted the Biden administration’s efforts to improve education and blasted Republican rhetoric about education as “homophobic and transphobic.”

The polarization of the debate went on full display when both debaters were asked to recognize something they believed the opposite party had done well in the past two years. Zeigler praised some Republicans for voting for President Biden’s legislation, while Thakur thanked Democrats for ensuring “there will be a Republican majority for the next 10 years.”

Both candidates then gave their concluding remarks and articulated their vision for the country.

Ziegler framed the Republican Party as a threat to democracy and painted the election as a choice between authoritarianism and democracy.

 “This midterm election has a pivotal role in the state of American democracy and whether it will continue for future elections. Election denialism cannot win, hatred cannot win, authoritarianism cannot win. What must win is democracy, equality and freedom,” Ziegler said.

Thakur urged voters to reject Democrats’ vision for the U.S. and to defend American institutions.

“The Democratic Party has waged war on everything good. And the result is a society that is more antagonized, more self-destructive and weaker than ever before,” Thakur said. “We are going to defend our culture and put Americans first in the name of God, family and country and we are going to make America great again.”

Contact Liam Kelly at lkelly8@nd.edu.

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Kanye West shows responding to antisemitism requires education, not just condemnation

The latest chapter in the ongoing controversies of Kanye West is his antisemitic tirades. Over the last month, West has spewed nearly every antisemitic trope in the book. On Instagram, he suggested that the rapper Diddy was influenced by Jews, playing on the notion that Jews control the media and other societal institutions. The insinuation is dangerous because it portrays Jews as puppet masters of the world and responsible for the world’s ills. After being restricted on Instagram, West shared on Twitter that he’s “going death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE.” He clarified later that he meant “DEFCON 3” in reference to a stage in U.S. defense readiness. However, whether he wants to kill Jews or go to war with them, both are clearly antisemitic. He also tweeted that Jews try to “black ball anyone who opposes [their] agenda,” again spreading the antisemitic conspiracy that Jews control the world.

In early October, he was interviewed by Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson and shared several antisemitic comments. Although those weren’t aired in the official interview, the footage was released around the time of his social media episode. In it, West claimed that Black people are the “real” Jews, arguing that Jews are “who the people known as the race Black really are.” While there are certainly Black Jews, his characterization plays into an antisemitic trope that non-Black Jews are imposters who stole their Jewish identity. In another part of the interview, the musician stated that he preferred his kids “knew Hanukkah than Kwanzaa. At least it will come with some financial engineering.” Here, West propagates the notion that Jews are greedy and wealthy. While the stereotype may seem positive, it’s historically used as justification to oppress Jews and commit violence against Jewish communities.

In mid-October, West appeared on a three-hour episode of the podcast “Drink Champs” and blamed nearly all his problems on Jewish people. West talked about sharing “Jewish business secrets,” claiming that “Zionist Jews” control the media, comparing Planned Parenthood to the Holocaust (Holocaust comparison, by the way, is antisemitic), and more. The rapper’s antisemitic commentary can go on much longer, but the message is clear that Kanye West’s October was a series of antisemitic conspiracies and rhetoric.

West’s celebrity status only amplified the reach and influence of his dangerous antisemitism on society. Because he has such a high level of stardom, his hate-filled messages have been misinterpreted by some as legitimate and emboldened others to spread antisemitism. Los Angeles saw a slew of antisemitic demonstrations following West’s comments, including one group that gave Nazi salutes over an overpass with a banner reading “Kanye is right about the Jews.” Antisemitic flyers were distributed in Beverly Hills alleging that Jews control the media and are responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond Los Angeles, a College Republicans group in Wisconsin posted a photo on Instagram with the message “Kanye is right. Def-con III,” likely referencing the assault on Jews that West has been advocating for. Although social media is always ripe with antisemitism, West’s comments have only reinvigorated users, spreading further hate on the Internet.

Now, it’s true that West has been routinely condemned. He’s been restricted from Instagram and Twitter indefinitely. Organizations and other celebrities have denounced West, including major sponsors like Balenciaga and GAP, as well as members of his former in-laws, the Kardashians. However, in some cases, this took too long. Adidas, for instance, waited until this week to cut ties with West, despite weeks of outrage as the company with Nazi ties was silent about their partner’s antisemitism. Why should Jews wait for their concern about clearly antisemitic acts to be shared by others? When bigotry happens, there must be solidarity with the affected community and commitment to counteract hate. Otherwise, the dangerous rhetoric manifests into discrimination and violence against marginalized communities.

That’s why condemning antisemitism and cutting ties with antisemites isn’t enough. Of course, condemning bigotry and disassociating from those who espouse hateful views is often good. However, we cannot simply call something bad, exclude those who practice it from societal institutions, and expect the problem to go away. Even though Kanye West may not be on Instagram or Twitter, his influence remains abundant. In addition to our current efforts, we must also combat the ignorance and misunderstanding that hatred capitalizes on to counter these prejudiced beliefs. This is especially true for antisemitism, a complex form of hatred that pertains to a small portion of the global population. We must strive to educate non-Jews about identifying and responding to Jew-hatred.

The first step to combating antisemitism is learning how to identify it. If we can’t recognize antisemitism, then we have no hope to limit its pervasive influence across the world. For this initiative, a clear, unified definition is necessary. By beginning from a similar starting point, we preclude the chances of obscurity or ambiguity that antisemites often employ to avoid condemnation. The Working Definition of Antisemitism offered by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance fits this description, adopted by countless governments, universities and other organizations throughout the world. I invite readers to utilize the Working Definition to gain a better understanding of antisemitism, as well as resources like the Translate Hate Glossary from American Jewish Committee to learn about common ways antisemitism manifests in our everyday conversations. 

Antisemitism is a difficult topic to understand and navigate, but there are steps we can take to build a more inclusive environment for the Jewish members of our community. As a Jewish student myself who works in Jewish advocacy, I’m still seeking clarification on antisemitism as new issues arise. I hope that you’ll join me on this journey.

Blake Ziegler is a senior at Notre Dame studying political science, philosophy and constitutional studies. He enjoys writing about Judaism, the good life, pressing political issues and more. Outside of The Observer, Blake serves as president of the Jewish Club and a teaching assistant for God and the Good Life. He can be reached at @NewsWithZig on Twitter or bziegler@nd.edu.

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Latin for fun and profit

Salvete omnes qui aut forte aut sua sponte tempus die exceperunt adesse nunc mecum. Quod scripsi est ordini maximi et certe dignus legendo multitudinis discuplorum. Ego ipse pollicior. 

Congratulations! You made it farther than many of your peers, who almost started reading this article but were deterred by the first word of the title or the three sentences’ worth of Latin words. To preface, I am neither compensated by The University of Notre Dame’s Classics Department to write this nor am I compelled by my major to tout its current benefits and future monetary promises. In fact, I am a finance major — not a classical studies major or anything of the same vein. I have no plans of pursuing a career in classics wherein I would most likely end up as a high school Latin teacher; I will leave those implications up to you. I am writing this article to share my well-informed opinion about a noble subject matter that, I estimate, receives a bad reputation from ill-informed opinions. I have been studying Latin for almost five years by now, and for almost five years, I have been the subject of ridicule. Essentially, I have heard it all. 

My favorite assertion against Latin is “Latin is a dead language!” In response, I say, “Yes! And no!” I agree with one sense of the word “dead” and disagree with the other. Latin is a “dead language” in the sense that there are no more native speakers. Such is the case with many other ancient languages like Sanskrit and Biblical Hebrew. However, the alternative sense of dead, the colloquial one, implies that Latin is useless. And this could not be any further from the truth. 

Firstly, the colloquial sense of “dead” is loaded with negative connotation and ubiquitously appears with a standoffish tone. “Dead” in this context is akin to my telling a friend “The party was dead, bro” when, the assessment stems not from measuring the decibels of the noise or tallying the amount of people there but rather from a deeply harbored frustration after seeing my crush talking to another guy. Calling Latin a “dead” language is the equivalent of responding to a heavily corroborated, fool-proof argument with a resounding “CAP” and saying nothing else after. These are incredibly hyperbolic analogies, but the truth lies in that calling Latin “dead” is an unfounded statement, based purely in opinion. The Anti-Latinist position would be much more respectable if it were based in reasonable rebuttals like, “There are other more relevant, beneficial languages to learn in the 21st century.” 

I concede that Spanish and Mandarin are probably more significant languages to learn to speak given the U.S.’s demographic trends as well as the future of commercial business. However, Spanish is a Romance language, which means that it is a derivative of Latin, as are French, Portuguese, Italian and Romanian. Therefore, there is tremendous overlap between Latin’s vocabulary and grammatical constructions and those of any Romance language. Latin could possibly be used as a linguistic foundation before one is to delve into new languages or even be used as a concurrent study aide, a handy point of reference. However, this relationship does not end with just the Romance languages; English, a Germanic language, still has much Latin influence. 

Like Romance languages, English implements a sizable amount of Latin vocabulary and grammar rules. Moreover, countless English words have etymological roots in Latin. Latin even influences idiomatic English, colloquial vocabulary. Take the phrase “willy-nilly,” which implies doing something whether one wants to or not. What if I told you that this phrase is an extension of the Latin words volens and nolens, which mean willing and unwilling, respectively? I could go on and on, applying the same principle to other words and phrases. The important takeaway is that there are many subtle Latin influences in English, many of which go unnoticed. 

At this point, you are probably exhausted by the linguistic jargon and are wondering how Latin can be for fun and profit. Let me explain. Classical studies have something for everyone. If you are dying to compete with your grandparents by clearing the ancient civilizations category on “Jeopardy,” consider studying Latin history. If you are dying to learn the words of an exorcism, learn oral Latin. If you are just dying to prove to that one problematic English teacher that you can, in fact, write an essay, practice analyzing Latin texts. The skills are the same! If none of these applied to you, still consider learning some Latin, so you can avoid the near occasion of improper grammar or botched Roman numerals in tattoos. Vinni Viddi Vicci!  

On a more serious note, Latin and classical studies, writ large, are multifaceted: There is much culture, history, language, politics, liturgy and literature to be appreciated. As I said above, there is something for everyone. Perhaps I am alone in this, but I think it is possibly fun to read Cicero’s “First Catilinarian,” a 63 B.C. equivalent of a diss track. Accusations. Slander. Mudslinging. In fact, there is a valuable storytelling aspect, akin to that of a novel, in every Latin text. In my personal writing career, I have profited from reading the prose of great writers like Julius Caesar and Pliny Minor, whose writing styles and rhetorical motifs have tremendous effect on my own. I am not saying that I copy the way they write, but I would be a rank liar to say that the implementation of antithesis, chiastic word structure, hyperbole, anaphora, aposiopesis, tricolon crescens, praeteritio and ring composition in this very article happened by accident. Think of these people more as quasi-ghost writers, literally. 

These rhetorical devices, all of which I acquired during my Latin career, add stylistic nuances to the texts I produce. It absolutely enhances the quality of my writing, an indispensable skill in any professional career. Latin has had such a profound impact on my life that I am continuing my education with a classical studies minor, to the dismay of my parents. A major reason for why I write for The Observer stems from a passion for writing nurtured by an even greater passion for Latin. I mean, my byline “De Re Publica” is a nod to Cicero and his work of the same namesake. 

What began as another boring high school grammar class eventually became an intellectual passion that influences how I express myself. I hope that what I have written has given you a new informed perspective of Latin, maybe even lightened some of your disdain. If not, call me a Latin loser. It is victus Latinus

Jonah Tran is a first-year at Notre Dame double majoring in Finance and Economics and minoring in Classics. Although fully embracing the notorious title of a “Menbroza,” he prides himself on being an Educated Young Southern Gentleman. You can contact Jonah by email at jtran5@nd.edu.

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Learning (and teaching) democracy: The key to solving America’s democratic crisis

No one is born with an innate knowledge of American democracy; we only come to know what citizenship and freedom mean in context. 

No one is born knowing what comprises the process of voter registration, how to engage with congressional representatives and where to research critical policies. That knowledge is shaped by experience. Long lines at the polls, gerrymandering which dilutes the power of votes and inaccessible politicians teach disillusionment, frustration and apathy.

If civic engagement is something that must be learned, then we must teach it the right way. They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It will be far harder to un-teach civic disengagement, withdrawal and apathy. 

Teaching our children to be democratic citizens will require consistent, concerted and coordinated effort by the government, schools, communities and organizations spanning multiple sectors. Here are a few places we should start. 

First, we must re-envision civic engagement as a necessary skill for the next generation. Civic engagement is about more than just the branches of government; the civics courses which many states require tend to be fact-based, teaching students about being a citizen rather than how to be a citizen.

The Annenberg Institute identifies six proven practices to improve civic education: high-quality classroom instruction, discussion of current events and controversial issues, service learning, extracurricular activities, participation in school government and simulating democratic processes (such as voting, trials, legislative deliberation and diplomacy). Note that only two of these six occur in a traditional classroom setting. The answer to our civics crisis lies not in civics exams alone, but in encouraging students to learn about civics through experiencing it. As John Dewey puts it, “until the emphasis changes to the conditions which make it necessary for the child to take an active share in the personal building up of his own problems and to participate in methods of solving them (even at the expense of experimentation and error), mind is not really freed” and democracy suffers as a result. 

Next, we must prioritize social emotional learning and critical thinking in classrooms and incorporate opportunities to practice active citizenship across multiple subjects. According to CivXNow, “civics must teach students to do what Americans are arguably worst at doing right now: holding productive discussions of current issues on which people disagree.” Learning to cooperate, discuss civilly, communicate effectively and manage one’s emotions are not only critical to success in life, but success as a U.S. citizen. In fact, these skills are crucial to facilitating social cohesion, a cornerstone of a successful nation and a key purpose of education “at the heart of each nation’s education system.” As Heyneman and Todoric-Bebic argue, “it is possible to judge the performance of an education system as much on the basis of its contribution to social cohesion as on its attainment of learning objectives.” 

These skills must not be confined to civics courses. Science, math, history, literature … all subjects prime our future citizens. Healthy debate in classrooms may allow students to share different interpretations of literature, and students may learn history through comparing and contrasting different accounts and perspectives. Science can teach critical questioning and collaboration, while math can teach persistence and problem-solving. The more children learn to voice and consider different perspectives and use this acquired knowledge to influence their communities, broadly defined, the closer we will be to attaining a healthy democracy. 

Finally, we must amplify a diversity of voices in the classrooms. Learning environments should be a simulation of a democracy which reflects principles of equality and justice of voice where students can actively practice civic engagement. This means that courses have an obligation to highlight prominent people of influence who are of various races, ethnicities and genders. Again, this responsibility is not confined merely to politics; historians, scientists and economists alike bear this responsibility in teaching our next generation. Science courses should teach Rosalind Franklin alongside Watson and Crick, as literature courses should teach Toni Morrison alongside Charles Dickens. Democracy is predicated on equality of voice, and teachers must actually model giving voice to all equally in the classroom in choosing the content through which our next generation encounters our world. 

Distinguished scholar, teacher and author Carl A. Grant argues that the purpose of education lies in cultivating flourishing lives through multicultural, democratic, social justice education. To Grant, society is strengthened by installing in students the courage to question, challenge and act upon American democracy, a system that “can be made to work for you or against you” and pursue a truth inclusive of histories, realities and experiences of marginalized communities. As Grant persuasively advocates, practicing democracy through education and taking social action are crucial to advancing a flourishing society.  

How can we teach democracy correctly the first time? By offering children an active civic education that expands beyond civics courses from an early age. Every opportunity we offer students within and outside the classroom has the potential to shape democratic citizens. The future of U.S. democracy lies, in large part, in the strength and ability of our education system. 

Lauren Klein graduated from Notre Dame in 2021 with a major in Biological Sciences and minors in the Hesburgh Program in Public Service and Education, Schooling, and Society. She is a member of ND’s Write to Vote chapter.

W2V is the Notre Dame chapter of the national Write to Vote Project, a non-partisan, pro-democracy initiative. Its goal is to support democracy, encourage civic engagement and advance voting rights in the U.S. and around the world. You can contact NDW2V at ndw2v@nd.edu.

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Klau Center granted institute status

The Klau Center for Civil and Human Rights has been elevated to an institute following a large donation from Rick and Molly Klau, according to a University press release Wednesday. The Klau Institute falls within the Keough School of Global Affairs and offers a curriculum in which students explore critical issues through the lens of Catholic social tradition, according to its website.

As a result of its elevation to the institute level, the institute will increase its capacity to educate students and assume “greater responsibility for national and international engagement,” according to the release.

The release emphasized that the center’s recent initiatives, such as the Building an Anti-Racist Vocabulary lecture series, will be supplemented and supported by the new donations.

Scott Appleby, the Marilyn Keough dean of the Keough School, expressed his gratitude to the Klaus for their gift.

“Protecting, advancing and enforcing human rights and civil rights are central to the pursuit of justice for all people, to Catholic social teaching and to the mission of Notre Dame,” Appleby said in the release. “The Klau Institute for Civil and Human Rights, which will educate countless generations of Notre Dame students and help train civil rights and human rights lawyers and advocates, is a gift to the University and to the world.”

The Klau family endowed the institute in 2018 with a $10 million gift. Former University President Fr. Theodore Hesburgh founded the institute in 1973 with the mission of advancing the “God-given dignity of all human persons,” according to the website.