The California legislature approved a bill that would prevent AI bots from replacing community college faculty members.

The California legislature voted unanimously for a bill to stop artificial intelligence (AI) bots from replacing community college faculty in the state.

The short, two-page bill passed on Friday and was sent to the desk of California governor Gavin Newsom, who can sign or veto the bill, or allow it to become law in September by taking no action. Newsom’s office declined to comment.

The bill states that the “instructor of record” for a community college course “shall be a person who meets the minimum qualifications to serve as a faculty member.” The process to meet those minimum qualifications is extensive, involving approval from the Academic Senate and Board of Governors, and would exclude AI bots from being instructors.

“AI is definitely encroaching upon the area of where I think a human should be involved in the learning,” said Wendy Brill-Wynkoop, president of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges. She pointed toward some AI tools in California that are starting to replace counselors, while tools like those from Khan Academy are moving deeper into the tutoring space.

An association governance committee hatched the idea for the bill last September. While, at face value, the bill seems focused on the labor concern of keeping faculty, Brill-Wynkoop said she believes it is less of an AI-focused bill and more about mitigating the potential long-term effects on students.

“Our thought was that the tool is powerful but we have to be cautious; because it is brand new, we have no idea where this is going to go,” she said. “The thought of the bill was making sure students have the right to humans as a faculty member to help them through wherever this [AI path] ends up going.”

Other faculty members across the nation have cited concerns about AI technology potentially coming for their jobs. Boston University faculty expressed alarm in April after the university’s dean of arts and sciences, Stan Sclaroff, emailed faculty suggesting they use AI during a strike by graduate students to help manage course discussions, labs and student feedback.

The National Education Association is expected to release faculty union guidance next month for use as a bargaining framework in discussions about potential AI replacements.

But other higher education–facing organizations have no plans to pursue similar legislation.

Larry Galizio, president and CEO of the Community College League of California, said the bill “almost essentially reaffirms the status quo.”

“I haven’t heard that concern about being replaced, but what I’ve heard are concerns that we need to have those discussions, hear from those experts and discuss a multiplicity of issues,” he said, pointing toward privacy concerns. “The bigger concerns are how are we approaching this as educational professionals so our students, in our communities, are as well placed as they can be in this changing and changed environment.”

Similarly, Martha Parham at the American Association of Community Colleges, said she was unaware of similar legislation pushes from community colleges across the nation, although she said this topic is at the forefront of most educators’ minds.

“I can say AI is something we’re hearing a lot about from many of our members; it’s definitely a top-of-mind subject for presidents and all administration, really,” she said, adding that the AACC’s next commission meeting will focus solely on AI and best ways to streamline processes for students. “I have not heard of anyone interested in replacing human beings with AI but certainly heard about how we can all benefit from the services it can provide to help students.”

Brill-Wynkoop agreed, saying the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges is not anti-AI. They just want to set limitations now before things evolve, especially in light of a tightened state budget that could have legislators turning toward cheaper teaching options.

“I don’t think there’s some evil being out there saying, ‘Let’s get rid of everyone,’ but when you have a budget that’s tightened, because of AI’s efficiency, it can be one of those tools [to help],” she said. “So we have to be thoughtful and careful in how and where we use it, to supplement education rather than a tool for eliminating positions.”

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