What are the social justice implications of ChatGPT and institutions’ responses to the tool?

I wrote in this blog post about information technology (and technology in general) and social justice that these concepts are not discussed enough. In that blog post and for this one, I use the concept offered by Tyler and Smith (1998) of social justice, which involves distributive and procedural. The authors defined distributive justice as the “distribution of limited goods and resources based on principles of equity, need, or equality” and procedural justice as the “influence during the decision-making process.”

The varied responses of learning institutions to ChatGPT, including outright banning the tool, such as New York City schools, Fairfax County Public Schools, Fairfax County Public Schools, and Los Angeles Unified School District some exploring the potential benefits by incorporating it into their classroom curriculum like Prof Ethan Mollick got me thinking to the idea of the impact of ChatGPT itself as well as the responses and their implications to social justice in higher education. In an almost inevitable future world where digital competencies involve AI, and when some high schools/universities ban these tools, does the digital divide become an issue?

Coincidentally, a colleague asked me, “could you point me toward articles or resources where universities are considering the DEI implications of OpenAI?” I may need to do more research across institutions to examine faculty guidance offered by higher education institutions. Still, at a glance, the available guidance provided by institutions I have reviewed focuses on the ethical use of AI, specifically academic dishonesty and plagiarism. Still, I did not read mentions of the implications of DEI.

Regarding equity and equality, folks with disabilities and advocates have expressed concerns about banning ChatGPT and AI. This article provides an example, “AI has tremendous potential, especially when it comes to making learning materials more accessible … it makes more sense for universities to embrace the technology,” she said, adding that returning to pen and paper “seems a bit backward.”

Another article highlighted the disproportionate impact of banning ChatGPT on folks with disabilities,

“Taking the hasty stance of rigid gatekeeping in response to AI proceeds down a path of universal dismantlement, the opposite of universal design. In universal dismantlement, imposed restrictions on technology, which may have a marginal impact on the population in general, would have a graver effect on those with disabilities.”

Suppose higher education institutions are to incorporate ChatGPT into student learning and teaching, research, and administrative functions. In that case, those tasked with designing and implementing the technology must ensure it does not inhibit specific populations’ ability to fulfill their “jobs to be done.”

Given the impact of ChatGPT and the responses to the tool, it is imperative for higher education decision-makers, faculty, and staff that provide service not only to our students but other stakeholders to understand the benefits and drawbacks of this disruptive tool. They also need to meaningfully involve those impacted by their decisions to participate and have input in proposed policies and practices. Introducing policies to combat unethical use of the technology may inadvertently introduce more harm to some populations they serve.


Taylor, S.H. “The Impact of College on the Development of Tolerance.” NASPA Journal, 1998, 34, 281-295.