The Michigan Daily sat down with University Provost Laurie McCauley Tuesday afternoon to talk about generative artificial intelligence and future projects from the Office of the Provost. Appointed in March 2022, McCauley will serve her term until June 2027. She discussed the launch of DEI 2.0, using AI to enhance the learning experience, a new vice provost position focused on student success and more.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The Michigan Daily: What would you say is your proudest accomplishment over the past semester?
Laurie McCauley: I’m not too crazy about the word “proud” because it carries a self-focused connotation, and the work I do as provost is quite the opposite. It’s a collective effort. One of them would be our launch of DEI 2.0, which is foundational work for everything we do on our campus and I think it brings a sense of optimism and hope. I’m also very excited about the strategic visioning that our campus is doing. University President Santa Ono was really keen on gathering input from the entire community to create Vision 2034. What I loved about this process is that it was incredibly inclusive in its outreach. For instance, there were over 5,000 inputs over the spring, and we’ve been reaching out again in this fall to stakeholder groups, like Central Student Government and students, faculty and staff. It’s really starting to come together now and we’ll anticipate presenting a more final product to the Board of Regents in January and then a rollout in March to the greater community. Vision 2034 has also been going on in partnership with Campus Plan 2050, which is the physical structure that will underpin what we need to meet this vision. The third thing that I have enjoyed personally this fall is connecting more with the community. I’ve been attending faculty meetings to hear about what’s going on in different academic units, meeting with some student groups and just trying to be out more having conversations and listening to the community.
TMD: Regarding the rise of generative AI and the development of U-M GPT, how does the Provost Office envision the role of AI in the University’s education model and other administrative operations?
LM: This is a really exciting time. I had the great opportunity to partner with Chief Information Officer Ravi Pendse and he’s an incredibly visionary leader in this space. We’ve put together a task force on generative AI in the spring to give recommendations for leading in this space. Their report came out over the summer and was distributed across campus so that faculty could learn from their peers. Some of the recommendations are starting to roll forward, one of which was to increase the resources available for our entire community. One of them is a University ChatGPT 4.0. The principle for that was to have something accessible and equitable for our entire community so all students, faculty and staff could use this platform without a cost. The other resource is U-M Maizey, which is available to faculty to utilize for their teaching and research. For instance, a Ross School of Business faculty member put five years of his course materials into Maizey to develop a personal tutor for the students in his class. I’ve also heard that School of Pharmacy faculty are putting prescription information into Maizey such that anyone learning how to write prescriptions will receive automatic feedback. It’s a really exciting time to use technology to the benefit of our mission.
TMD: Regarding the campus-wide internet outage at the beginning of the semester and the information compromised in the related breach, what potential steps beyond the password reset will the Provost Office take to ensure information security of students, faculty and staff?
LM: The outage was handled by Ravi Pendse and he’s got a fabulous security team who acted quite quickly on that. The Provost Office doesn’t oversee it. We partner with them to communicate their recommendations to the communities that we serve. But we’ve not taken any actions outside that.
TMD: At recent Senate Assembly meetings, faculty have mentioned feeling burned out due to student accommodations. How do you aim to address faculty burnout and improve faculty well-being in general?
LM: The well-being of our faculty, staff and students is a critically important issue. What we can do is try and educate our faculty so that those accommodations come naturally and become part of the educational mission and the work they do, instead of being something additional. My belief is that our faculty love teaching and they love educating students, and they’re committed to educating all students in a very inclusive manner, including students who need accommodations, but sometimes it’s challenging for faculty if they feel like they have to add on things that maybe they’re not familiar with. Some of the other things that we do for well-being is that we moved the academic calendar so that the Winter Break was a week longer. We did that in response to comments from faculty, staff and students that their ability to have a mental break in between terms would be better if the break was longer. The Well-being Collective has also addressed and is onboarding more and more faculty perspectives in dealing with well-being on campus as well.
TMD: As the largest university in the state, how do you see the University’s role in shaping the future of higher education both locally and globally?
LM: We look at ourselves as incredible support for the state in educating the residents of the state of Michigan. More than half of our undergraduate students are residents of the state of Michigan, so there’s a commitment there for us to educate people who ultimately will work and live in the state of Michigan. I think some of the things that we have committed to do as a university will be incredibly impactful for our state and that’s in the context of climate and sustainability. I think we lead the state in those initiatives and we can be not only a leader in helping the state manage residents to be great citizens of our natural resources, but we can also be models in that regard. I think we lead in the area of health and wellness. With our work on the Well-being Collective, we set the stage for many other institutions in the state for assuring the mental health and well-being of our students, faculty and staff. We’re also leading far beyond the state in the incorporation of generative AI. I think we’re making noted impacts in Detroit through the Detroit Center, as well as launching the University of Michigan Center for Innovation in Detroit, which not only will be a magnet to bring people into Detroit and help with the revitalization of Detroit but also will go far to help with workforce education.
TMD: Are there any new projects that you’ve envisioned for the coming year, specifically for your office, that you would like to share with the campus community?
LM: A passion of mine is supporting individuals with disabilities on our campus. When I learned that there are one in four adults in the state of Michigan with a disability, it became clear to me that we have to ensure that our students are educated to go into a world where one in four people have a disability. We convened a group of faculty who either do research in this space or are particularly well-known for their support of individuals with disabilities to have conversations about what are the approaches we can use to increase accessibility. We’re also building on a report that was generated in 2019 called the IDEA Board, a series of recommendations for how we could improve our support of individuals with disabilities. We also hope to announce a new vice provost for undergraduate education soon and that position will be focused on student success, in particular working on information like graduation outcomes. If you look at first-generation students, students from families of low socioeconomic status or students who are underrepresented, those groups have lower graduation rates. Looking at this data might suggest things that we could do to elevate the graduation rates of all our students across our campus. It really makes me happy to think that we’re going to have somebody that is dedicated to the success of our students.
TMD: What’s your favorite spot on campus? Is there a hidden gem or a lesser-known place you enjoy visiting?
LM: I love everything about our campus. I think it’s a beautiful campus that I love walking around. But if I had to pick a special place I might bring up the courtyard garden at the Michigan League. I used to call it the secret garden because a lot of people didn’t know about it. In the summer, it’s delightful to have a lot of nice little plants there. And in the fall, I think it has the most beautiful colors and it’s just a nice, cozy little escape place.