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Professor put clues to a cash prize in his syllabus. No one noticed

🔴 Wilson, the associate head of performing arts, surmised that the prize remained unclaimed during the semester because if someone had found it, the student “would not have stayed quiet about it,” he said.

By: New York Times |
December 19, 2021 12:51:02 pm
Professor put clues to a cash prize in his syllabus. No one noticedWilson said he knows this because on the second page of the three-page syllabus he included the location and combination to a locker, inside of which was a $50 cash prize. (Representative Image)

Written by Isabella Grullón Paz

Kenyon Wilson, a professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, wanted to test whether any of his students fully read the syllabus for his music seminar.

Of the more than 70 students enrolled in the class, none apparently did.

Wilson said he knows this because on the second page of the three-page syllabus he included the location and combination to a locker, inside of which was a $50 cash prize.

“Free to the first who claims; locker one hundred forty-seven; combination fifteen, twenty-five, thirty-five,” read the passage in the syllabus. But when the semester ended Dec. 8, students went home and the cash was unclaimed.

“My semester-long experiment has come to an end,” Wilson wrote on Facebook, adding: “Today I retrieved the unclaimed treasure.”

He said he was unaware of the reach of his post until the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. contacted him about doing a story about it.

Wilson said he wanted to include the hidden clues to brighten up the semester during the pandemic.

“Teaching in a pandemic, I’m trying to do creative things and, you know, make it interesting,” he said Saturday. “The syllabus is a really dry document. I mean, it’s not supposed to be exciting to read, but I thought if my students are going through and reading it, I might as well reward them.”

Wilson, the associate head of performing arts, surmised that the prize remained unclaimed during the semester because if someone had found it, the student “would not have stayed quiet about it,” he said. Also, at the start of the semester, he set the combination lock at the noon position and it remained unchanged.

Tanner Swoyer, a senior studying instrumental music education, said that he felt “pretty dumb, pretty stupid” when he saw the professor’s post about the money in the locker, which was in the fine arts center. Swoyer immediately texted his classmates, who also felt “bamboozled,” mostly because, he said, this was something Wilson would do.

Wilson said he was not disappointed with his students. When he was a student, he most likely would have also missed the clues, he said.

“We read the parts that we deem important,” he said. “You know, what’s the attendance policy? What are the things I need to do to pass this class? And then there’s other stuff.”

“The other stuff” in this case also included a passage about what to do if a student tested positive for COVID-19.

“It’s something that I thought would be read and something on the first day of the semester I pointed out: ‘Hey, there are some new things in the syllabus. Make sure you, you know, make sure you catch them,’ and then no one did,” he said.

Since his Facebook post, he has gotten suggestions about what to do next semester. Other professors have recommended turning the next clues into a group activity.

“This is a class that has every music major in it, from freshmen to seniors,” Wilson said. “Some suggested to make sure that this can only be solved with seniors and freshmen getting to know each other or something of that nature.”

But he was unsure he’d do it again.

“The jig is up,” he said. “There’s no way I can duplicate that.”

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