A University of Toronto professor’s grading system has come under fire online because of the way extra credit was being awarded to students.
Mitchell Huynh is a sessional lecturer in the Department of Management at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) campus. Teaching “Introduction to Personal Finance,” a course developed by Huynh for the university, he offers students wealth management skills and finance education.
Huynh incentivized up to a five per cent grade top-up if students follow his social media accounts and buy a copy of his book. Priced $19.50 on Amazon, the self-published book, titled “Dumb Money: From The Working Person to The Wealthy Person,” also doubles as the main textbook for the course.
The book is not currently available through the U of T bookstore.
A deleted Reddit post originally revealed the controversial grading breakdown. The five per cent in participation marks relied on actions such as following Huynh on Twitter and Instagram and purchasing a copy of his book. Included in this participation rubric, students had to also create a LinkedIn profile.
The remaining participation points derived from 10 written submissions on what students had learned from the course.
Huynh defended his actions in an interview with The Medium, explaining that the marking scheme strategically falls in line with the theme of building a mentorship, one of the main course objectives.
“The theory behind the social media follows is to create a network where students have access to my LinkedIn, and all of my content and teachings,” he said.
Huynh explained the value of utilizing this network went beyond the classroom. “Through social media, students can leverage this resource as they move outside the course.”
Through being accessible on social media, Huynh said he could “always be there to mentor them.”
In addition to teaching, Huynh is the Division Director of Investors Group and hosts two financial advice programs on Rogers TV.
When asked if giving extra credit in exchange for book purchases was ethical, Huynh claimed that the grading structure is not meant to benefit him personally.
“I’m not forcing students to follow me on social media and then somehow I benefit from that,” Huynh said.
“I think they benefit more from being connected. That’s the mentorship section of the course that we teach,” he continued. “This is the kind of mentorship that increases your personal capital.”
Huynh said that he receives frequent feedback and questions from students on how they should approach prospective opportunities of success.
“After the course, a lot of my students on LinkedIn or Instagram send me questions on things like mentorships or how to prepare for an interview,” Huynh recalled. “I think a professor’s position is not just to teach kids and grade them. We’re there to ensure their success.”
Bringing perspective to the social media aspect, Huynh said the overall course is designed around “creating wealth.” His goal aims to help students learn how to “leverage and create income and turn that income into wealth.”
One of those methods includes keeping in touch with Huynh once students begin applying learned concepts into their own lives.
According to the syllabus, the course provides the tools and knowledge to efficiently manage finances, while helping guide others to do the same. The course also teaches financial literacy through concepts like cash flow analysis, asset management, taxation, risk management, retirement, and estate planning.
Expanding on these terms, Huynh believes financial success requires personal development. “The more you invest in yourself, the more you raise your self-value. That’s one of the elements of the course that I want to teach. It’s that mindset.”
When reached for comment, a University of Toronto spokesperson declined to directly speak on private matters of school staff. However, they stood firm on their Assessment and Grading Practices Policy.
Faculties and divisions are allowed to develop their grading guidelines, so long as grading abides by certain rules under the policy. The policy states that grades should measure “student performance,” defined as their “command of the content of an academic program.”
Reacting to this policy, Huynh described the unique process of teaching and learning finance, including its scope and potential when used in the real world. “This is part of the mastery of this course. Students need to understand how to use networks and the other tools out there at their disposal.”
Huynh also pointed out the importance of achieving more than one source of income nowadays.
“There’s so many different tools for us to start businesses on the side and be cognizant of all the tools that are out there. I think higher education has always been somewhat limiting in terms of that,” Huynh said, describing what he feels is a “disconnect” between academic experience and the practical application of learning material.
Huynh cites the popularity of his course, highlighting positive reviews from his students.
“Many of my students say this is the best course they’ve taken in their university career,” Huynh said. “They say they’ve learned life skills that they can take elsewhere. They tell me they’ve been given a mentor for life; someone they can look up to and follow.”
Huynh said the university has reached out to him and requested changes to the participation grading scheme.
While he doesn’t “blame” the university for their stance, he acknowledged it’s hard to “pigeonhole” the course.
“The mindset and understanding of the course are really only delivered to the people that are inside [of the course].”