The students in my "Ethics in Science" course have, as usual, reminded me why I love teaching. (Impressively, they manage to do this while generating ever larger quantities of the stuff I don't love about teaching, written work that needs to be graded.) But, recently, they've given me some indications that my take on the world and theirs may differ in interesting ways.
For example, last week they discussed a case study in which a graduate student is trying to figure out what to do about his difficulties with his research in a lab where the most successful student is also romantically involved with the boss.
In the discussion, there was about the range of opinions you'd expect about the acceptability of this kind of relationship and its likely effects on the collegiality of the training environment.
But there was a certain flavor of response that really confused me. It boiled down to something like this: The boss and the fellow grad student are responsible adults who can date anyone they want. Get over it, get back to your research, and for goodness sake don't go blabbing about their relationship because if the department chair finds out about it, they could both get in big trouble, maybe even losing their jobs.
Am I wrong that there seems to be a contradiction here?
If the professor and his graduate student can get in official trouble, at the hands of the department chair, for their romantic involvement, doesn't that suggest that the relationship is, in the official work context, not OK?
Or, looking at it from the other direction, if such a romance is something that they and any of their lab members who happen to have discovered it need to keep on the down-low, doesn't this suggest that there is some problematic issue with the relationship? Otherwise, why is the secrecy necessary?
I'm thinking the crux of this response -- they can date if they want to, but no one with authority over them must know about it -- may be a presumption that workplace policies are unreasonably intrusive, especially when it comes to people's personal lives. Still, it strikes me that at least some workplace policies might exist for good reasons -- and that in some instances the personal lives of coworkers (and bosses) could have real impacts on the work environment.
Is "mind your own business" a reasonable policy here, official work policies be damned?