I was recently faced with quite an interesting ethical dilemma. My friend is a RA (research assistant) at a local, world-renown university. The professor she works for is brilliant and very sweet. While this means that his research is published quite often, it also means that many walk all over him (let’s call him The Professor). My friend is only one of five RAs, but she often feels like she is the only one.
The problem is that, being too sweet, The Professor never reinforces deadlines and accepts even the most transparently bold lie on why work hasn’t been done. My friend, who has a deep professional respect for this professor but has also developed a strong bond of friendship with him, does everything she can to help him cope with the work of his four lazy and profiteering RAs.
While I find it quite commendable that my friend is willing to help The Professor through odd hours of the night to meet important grant and publication deadlines, I find it appalling that she has to do the work other people are getting paid for. I have been telling her this for a long while now, but only recently did it hit me that not only she was being unfair towards herself, but that her actions, stemming from professionalism and empathy, were in fact perpetuating injustice.
At the most basic level, it boils down to this. While in the short term, my friend might be helping the Professor, in the long term she’s encouraging him not to stand up for himself. If the Professor doesn’t stand up to the four RAs – let’s call them the Foolish Four – then they will be able to get away with being paid for nothing. The more they get away with it, the more they will be tempted to do it, not only at work, but at home and at any community activity they might be involved in. Because let’s admit it: most people would love to be paid for doing nothing.
However, my friend does have a good reason not to stand up to the Foolish Four; they have connections within the Faculty where they work and have already caused problems for other people. It seems that their addiction to being paid for doing nothing is so strong that they won’t let anyone stand in their way. So the initial people who didn’t change the way the Foolish Four worked – or didn’t work – has created a vicious cycle perpetuating injustice.
I do think that things are a lot more complicated than what I presented in this post, but often the solutions are quite simple. In this case, The Professor, who is lucky enough to have a solid and respected reputation as well as being as asset to the Faculty and the University he works for, could probably get rid of the Foolish Four. But since the injustice has been perpetuated for so long because of him being ‘nice’, there is a need for an external force to encourage this change. This force could be in the shape of my friend, who could, lovingly and patiently, present the above argument to him and brainstorm on ways to make sure such injustice isn’t perpetuated anymore. Hopefully this will happen soon; I’ll make sure to keep you posted when it does.