Married … with tenure

History professor John Gaddis and theater studies DUS Toni Dorfman.
History professor John Gaddis and theater studies DUS Toni Dorfman. Photo by Nikita Lalwani.

Several times during the “Rhetoric and Political Order” seminar she taught last fall, Norma Thompson, the director of undergraduate studies for the Humanities Department, referred to Charles Hill’s Directed Studies lectures. At the end of the term, she hosted a class dinner at her house, and when Hill — her husband — walked into the house a few moments later, one student exclaimed in surprise.

“ ‘Ah ha! He lives here!’ ” Thompson recalled the student saying. “He finally understood all of those random Charlie Hill interventions,” she said.

Psychology professors Ahn and Chun were hired by Yale at the same time.
Psychology professors Ahn and Chun were hired by Yale at the same time.

Yale acknowledges that many of its faculty — such as Hill and Thompson, one of several faculty couples at Yale — are in “dual-career” marriages. When hiring, the University makes an effort to find a place at Yale for each spouse, said Frances Rosenbluth, the deputy provost for social sciences and faculty development. She added that the University helps faculty’s spouses to find the right jobs in general, whether it is in academia or the private sector, at Yale or at neighboring universities or colleges. As a result, many husbands and wives can both call Yale home, something five married professors said strengthens their relationship.

Because academic departments make individual hires, administrators cannot place spouses into faculty jobs themselves, Rosenbluth said. But economics department chair Benjamin Polak said that even when an academic department has received 600 files for an open position, department chairs make sure to take a particularly serious and lengthy look at spouses of current faculty members. For higher-level appointments, like department chairs, even University President Richard Levin takes special care to help the professors’ families.

“I often help directly, making a recommendation to get kids into schools, or helping to find connections that allow spouses to get job interviews,” Levin said.

Some faculty couples go a long way back: Psychology professors Woo-kyoung Ahn and Marvin Chun went to the same college in Korea, although they did not meet there because he was three-and-a-half years younger. Later, while he was teaching at the University of Louisville, Chun e-mailed Ahn for a syllabus for her course, she said.

“We had e-mail exchanges five times a day for two months,” Ahn said. “He fell in love, and he flew in after that.”

After dating for two years, they married and went out on the job market together, she said. They were interviewed at the same time at Yale for two vacancies in the psychology department and were both hired, Ahn added. She said she and Chun often have overlapping students, which makes it easier and more fun to relate to student, she said.

History professor John Gaddis and Toni Dorfman, the director of undergraduate studies for Theater Studies, had a briefer courtship — Gaddis proposed to Dorfman on their fourth date. It was 1997 and Gaddis had already accepted a Yale job and bought a house in New Haven, he said, but he was worried about Dorfman leaving her job at a different university to move in with him with no guarantee of a placement at Yale. Fortunately, Dorfman accepted Gaddis’s proposal, and Yale quickly helped her find a job in the Theater Studies Department, he added.

“One student, on hearing about the marriage proposal on the fourth date, observed tactfully: ‘Well, at that age, I guess it has to happen that way,’ ” Gaddis said.

Polak — who is married to English professor Stefanie Markovits ’94 GRD ’01 — added that there are only a limited number of quality university jobs available in New Haven outside of Yale, so faculty spouses sometimes have to commute to Wesleyan University in Middletown or Trinity College in Hartford if they want a career in academia.

Sometimes faculty members leave Yale because the University cannot find a job, or a good enough job, in New Haven for their spouses, Rosenbluth added.

“Compared to universities in big cities, moreover, we face the reality that it may not be as easy for partners to find jobs in the New Haven area right away,” she said in an e-mail.

Aside from saving transit costs, spouses working in the same university are more efficient employees, said Beth Livingston, a human resource management professor at Cornell University who specializes in family and the workplace. Research has shown that if a worker is constantly worrying about his or her spouse being unemployed, his or her family problems will often spill into the workplace, Livingston said.

“When you’re an academic, your job is very specialized,” Livingston said. “The good news is that universities are good about finding faculty appointments for spouses.”

Economics Professor Ray Fair, who is married to Yale School of Management Dean Sharon Oster, said academics, especially economists, approach life similarly. This helps with communication, he said, and in dealing with marital conflicts when they arise. In keeping with his philosophy on marriage, his two children, both economists themselves, are also married to other economists.

“All economists should marry other economists,” he joked.

Sharing a workplace inevitably allows married professors to interact with each other more during the day. Four professors interviewed said they see their spouse at least once a day, whether in accidental encounters or at lunch or dinner dates.

“We always try to have dinner together so that we can gossip about our students and colleagues,” Gaddis said.

Dean of Yale College Mary Miller said that as master of Saybrook College she ate lunch in the Saybrook dining hall with her husband, Japanese literature Professor Ed Kamens ’74 GRD ’82, every day for nearly 10 years before she took her current post. They also went to the gym together about three times a week in the afternoon, she said.

All five of the professors interviewed said they also socialize with similar groups of people as a result of their shared professions. Many Yale faculty couples socialize with other Yale faculty couples as well.

“Married Yale folk can be found all over the place, like a contagion,” Thompson said. “It’s not just in the President’s Office, or “Grand Strategy,” but also in Directed Studies, the Whitney Humanities Center Fellowship, and Berkeley College, among many others.”

Ahn said she could not imagine not working alongside her husband.

“To me, my husband is also my best friend,” she said. “It’s good to have someone I can trust all the time. I highly recommend it.”

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