I used to work in a company that has close ties with the academia. One of the professors ("Dr A") wasn't/isn't using his funding properly by hiring his long-time girlfriend as his research assistant. He and his girlfriend showed up at company events as a couple so there's no doubt about their relationship.

After I left my previous company, one of the profs ("Dr B") in the same area of research who works in a different university pointed out to me that the government's funding agency prohibited the researchers from hiring relatives and partners using the money. At Dr B's department, a prof had been fired by the university for violating this rule.

No one from my previous workplace and the circle of researchers bothered to report to the funding agency about Dr A's violation. I was temped to be the whistleblower after leaving that workplace, but was taken back because it's obvious who was the reporter: There were not that many of us in the circle. Even if the funding agency had a whistleblower policy in place, I doubted if it could protected me as someone who worked in the industry.

I'm not seeking any heroic stories about penalizing the profs. Instead, I'm wondering if anyone has encountered a similar problem. In addition, I'm also interested to know how the universities and the departments deal with this kind of issue as peacefully as possible.

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    @BillBarth Canada.
    – user8661
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 17:26
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    Why do you assume he is breaking the rules. How do you know how this person is being paid? Professors often have multiple funding sources and even if they only have a single funding source, there is often some discretionary overhead which can be used for anything. Potentially his long-time girl friend doesn't qualify as a partner or maybe he got permission from the funding agency.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Aug 14, 2014 at 18:47
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    @user8001 - actually some harm would be done if the OP reported the prof and it turns out that no rules are violated. The harm is that taxpayers money would be spent for the investigation. Even if they find that the ruleas are violated and the GF and/or prof are fired, it might do more harm than good if their contribution to the project is valuable. Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 9:46
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    @lacampane11a, why do you want to report this? Are there any personal reasons involved? Do you dislike the prof or the GF? Do you think the GF does an inferior work? If you are just concerned about the taxpayers' money, see my comment above. And how can you actually prove that they are a couple? What if they became a couple after starting the project? If you have said that the GF doesn't do what she is supposed to for the project, it would be another matter but wanting to report that 2 people who work together also have a sexual relationship sounds distasteful, imho. Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 9:50
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    @greenfingers While I do in principle agree with you in that starting a fight over this matter seems petty, I want to point out that the reason you should not hire your girlfriend is similar to why quotas (gender etc.) should never be used: It is not obvious that the hired person is the most qualified, or qualified at all. Now it might be that they are good at what they do, but this is often not immediately apparent and the hiring process probably was not transparent. If your collaborators have doubts (like the OP does), then a re-evaluation of hiring criteria seems to be in order.
    – alarge
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 15:06

1 Answer 1


Good things rarely come to whistleblowers. Most of the time, absolutely nothing happens [to the accused] and occasionally really bad things happen to the whistleblower in the forms of retribution, blacklisting, defamation/slander lawsuits, etc. Laws protecting whistleblowers tend to be ineffectual at best.

You need to evaluate the benefit/risk ratio yourself.

That being said, if you were to whisteblow, there are several levels you can do it at:

Good luck.

[That all being said: the situation you describe is likely to yield at most a reprimand from the funding agency if the girlfriend was actually working while receiving a salary (and thus it wasn't embezzlement only nepotism). I'm assuming the company already knows -- private companies tend to be more lax about these things compared to public (and even private) universities which receive a majority of the funding from the state.]

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    The first phrase is absolutely golden: Good things rarely come to whistleblowers.
    – user8661
    Commented Aug 15, 2014 at 23:00
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    Yes, golden as in "black gold" - coal... Valuable, but very dark... Commented Dec 23, 2017 at 4:33

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