Case Study
A difficult assignment

Two weeks into the new semester, the professor in Mary’s course on family health gives the class a special assignment that was not on the course syllabus. Over the next week, everyone in the class is to talk with three classmates who are not in the course about the way their families deal with medical emergencies and chronic illness. Next week they should come to class prepared to report on their interviews. The Professor warns them, however, that in talking about their conversations they should not mention any names to protect the privacy of their classmates.

The assignment makes Mary uneasy. In her basic psychology course last semester she learned about some of the rules pertaining to the use of human subjects in research. However, when she raises her concerns with her professor, he assures her that her informal conversations with classmates are not research and therefore not subject to regulation. Moreover, since she will not be mentioning any names, there are no privacy issues to worry about.

  • Should Mary be content with these assurances and conduct the interviews?
  • If she still has concerns, where should she turn for advice?
  • Did the professor act properly in giving this assignment to the class?