UC Berkeley reader recovers about 50 stolen final exams

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A UC Berkeley sociology reader’s backpack, which contained about 50 students’ final exams, was stolen Wednesday — but merely a day later, the backpack and all the exams were recovered, thanks to a vigilant campus alumnus.

Professor Joanna Reed, who teaches Sociology 130AC — otherwise known as Social Inequalities: American Cultures — received a call Wednesday from Aaron Platt, one of the three readers for her approximately 150-student course, notifying her about the theft.

“He went and tried to look around the neighborhood,” Reed said. “He didn’t find (the exams).”

Reed said Platt was unharmed in the robbery and called it “a crime of opportunity” rather than a violent mugging.

After discussing the situation with other members of the sociology department, Reed emailed the affected students Wednesday about 9:15 p.m. via bCourses, informing them of the theft and outlining two options: allowing Reed to base their final grade on the work they did before the final or taking a make-up exam at the start of the spring semester.

Reports of the theft first surfaced in a screenshot of Reed’s email that was posted in the Facebook group UC Berkeley Memes for Edgy Teens, run in part by members of the Daily Cal editorial staff.

Forrest Li, a UC Berkeley sophomore whose exam was stolen, was going to allow Reed to base his final grade on the rest of his coursework, as he felt that he did well in the course until the final exam.

“I was pretty happy because I didn’t really do that well on the final,” Li said with a laugh.

Campus senior Sheriden Lucero, however, was shocked and upset when she received Reed’s email: She felt that both of the options were unfair. In an email she sent to Reed, Lucero said she felt that she had done very well on the final and did not want to settle for “a lesser grade” by accepting the first option.

Reed acknowledged that some students were displeased about the options, but the concerns became irrelevant once she received an email Thursday from Berkeley resident Chris Helwig, who had found the exams.

Helwig, a UC Berkeley alumnus, saw the exams in a pile at Tremont and Prince streets, near the Ashby BART station, when he was commuting to San Francisco for work. He noticed Reed’s name on the covers of the Blue Books and later looked up Reed online to notify her about the abandoned backpack. Platt was able to pick up his backpack — and all of the stolen exams — off the street later that day.

“I just thought it would be the right thing to do to find out who (the backpack) belonged to … I’m happy that (the exams) were recovered,” Helwig said.

Reed said she never expected to recover the final exams and was pleasantly surprised by Helwig’s email. She repeatedly expressed her gratitude for Helwig’s good-Samaritan attitude.

According to Reed, Platt told her that while the exams smelled heavily of vodka, they were otherwise in good condition.

Reed was doubtful that the exams had been tampered with, saying it was “not something we’re really worried about.” She added that she and Platt did not suspect that any students in the class were behind the theft.

In an email to the entire class sent Thursday about 9:28 p.m. via bCourses, Reed said that final grades would be calculated normally now but that final grades would not be released until Jan. 3, given the delay in obtaining the exams.

Although many students were relieved that the original exams were found, some expressed irritation with the situation.

“This is an institution that we pay so much money for … and we work hard, and the fact that our grades can be affected by something as extraordinary as that is just upsetting,” Lucero said. “We pay for a level of professionalism, and they didn’t deliver on that.”

Reed agreed that the past few days had been tumultuous and dramatic, but said she was relieved that in the end, everything would proceed as usual.

“The good news is we got all of the exams back. That’s ideal,” Reed said. “That’s what we want — to treat everyone fairly and to make sure that all the work that people put into studying for the final and writing the final is (recognized).”

Chantelle Lee is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ChantelleHLee.