This story has been updated with comment from the University of Toronto.
A University of Toronto finance professor and self-described “wealth multiplier” has figured out how to grow his social capital—by giving higher grades to students who follow him on Twitter and get signed copies of his book.
An outraged student enrolled in Mitchell Huynh’s personal finance course took to Reddit to express frustration over Huynh’s grading scheme. According to the original post, which has since been deleted, students can earn 5 percent for “engagement”: 1 percent each for buying the professor’s book, Dumb Money, getting the book signed, connecting with Huynh on LinkedIn, and following him on Twitter and Instagram.
As a journalist, I feel for the guy; developing a Twitter presence ain’t easy, and with only about 680 followers, Huynh could use a boost. But relying on a bunch of 20somethings, many of whom will likely grapple with student debt for years, to build a brand as a financier seems low-key insulting—especially since Huynh’s website says he’s worth “several million.”
People on the University of Toronto Mississauga subreddit questioned Huynh’s ethics. “I think the main issue here is that he's blatantly trying to profit off his students,” one user wrote. Another Reddit account pointed out that students who get the textbook signed by Huynh won’t have the ability to return it and get their money back.
“I would say there’s not much for me to profit from,” Huynh said in response to his Reddit critics.
Huynh told VICE he only encourages students to follow him on social media so that they can access his money smarts in real time. “They’ve actually benefited from being connected and making use of my networks,” he said. Huynh has taught his course for three years and now has hundreds of former students, who he says can message him directly via Twitter and LinkedIn for financial advice.
The personal finance professor said he doesn’t believe the people posting on Reddit are his current or former students.
“Most of them haven’t been in my course, so I can understand why they might feel that way,” Huynh said. “But I’ve been getting a bunch of messages from previous and current students sharing their support.”
If the story sounds familiar, that’s because Huynh, who also doubles as a condo developer, isn’t the first prof to try and build brand fame through his teaching profile. Last summer, NYU journalism students filed a formal complaint against American journalist Lauren Duca, claiming Duca was more interested in promoting her book than actually teaching her summer course, “The Feminist Journalist.”
Huynh said he will continue to dole out grades for social media engagement.
“It is part of the course,” he said. ”A lot of students can learn from my content.”
In an emailed statement, a U of T spokesperson said the university can't comment on any specific case because of privacy.
Turns out Huynh has a “social media guy” who produces his content, including this Instagram post. In the video, you can see what Huynh estimates to be about $50,000 spilling out of a Vector cereal box while trap beats play in the background. Two little white dogs—not named Portfolio and Keto, unfortunately—sit earnestly behind Huynh.
As for Huynh’s book, he also plans to keep it on his syllabus.
“It’s the only required reading for my course,” the developer-professor shared. “A lot of students recommend that I donate all the proceeds to the Australia fires, which is really cool.”
Book royalties are “pretty pitiful and will only add a couple hundred dollars a month” to wildfire relief efforts, Huynh said. But he hopes the move will highlight that he’s not actually profiting directly from young, often indebted people.
During the time it took to write this article, Huynh’s follower count on Twitter climbed from 680 to just under 700.
On that note, follow Anya Zoledziowski on Twitter.