As It Happens

This prof hid $50 in a locker to see if his students read his syllabus. Nobody found it 

Kenyon Wilson wanted to test the age-old adage that nobody reads the syllabus.

‘I really think that spring of 2022 is going to be the most well-read syllabi of all time’

Kenyon Wilson, right, an associate head of performing arts at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, left cold hard cash and a note in a locker, left, for any student who read his seminar syllabus to claim. (Submitted by Kenyon Wilson)

Story Transcript

Kenyon Wilson wanted to test the age-old adage that nobody reads the syllabus.

The Tennessee music professor slipped a $50 US bill into a locker on his campus, and buried the location and combination in the syllabus for his performing arts seminar class. 

The semester is over. The students have gone home. The cash remains unclaimed.

"I totally understand it. I'm not saying that when I was a student that I read the syllabus religiously, word for word," Wilson, the associate head of performing arts at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"I knew going into this that there was a good chance that the money might go unclaimed — although I'd be just as happy if we were having this conversation where I was talking about the mad rush to get this money."

The professor finally revealed his ruse last week on Facebook.

"Some of the first to respond back were my students — all very good sports about it," he said.

One student shared a screenshot of the syllabus with the highlighted text alongside a laugh-cry emoji and the words: "Dang it." 

A parenthetical Easter egg 

Wilson says he's long suspected his syllabus goes mostly unread, even though he always tells his students to read it through. It's an online document, about three pages in length, outlining course expectations, grading scales and other bits of what Wilson calls "boilerplate language."

"The syllabus is kind of a dry document, of course. And I decided I wanted to have a little fun this semester," he said.

His syllabus doesn't change much semester to semester, he said. But this year's version contained some new information about COVID-19 safety protocols, as well as all the usual stuff.

That's where he slipped in a parenthetical Easter egg: "free to the first who claims; locker one hundred forty-seven; combination fifteen, twenty-five, thirty-five." 

In the locker, which is conveniently located just outside his classroom, he left a $50 bill and a note: "Congrats! Please leave your name and date so I know who found it."

Music professor Kenyon Wilson slipped this little note mid-sentence in his course syllable. (Submitted by Kenyon Wilson)

Not only did nobody pocket the cash, Wilson says, but as far as he can tell, nobody so much as turned the combination lock from the position in which he left it.

"I thought there's a chance that students would reclaim the money. And you know, $50 is not life-changing, but it's enough to brighten someone's day."

Wilson says he bears his students no ill-will, and the experiment was all in good fun.

But he won't try it again next year. Now that his Facebook post has gone viral, the jig is up.

"People who have seen this are going, 'All right, maybe my professor has been inspired by this,'" he said. "I really think that spring of 2022 is going to be the most well-read syllabi of all time."


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Mehek Mazhar. 

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now