Married professors talk love

University President Richard Levin and his wife, Directed Studies professor Jane Levin, shared their story at a Thursday panel sponsored by Vita Bella Magazine.
University President Richard Levin and his wife, Directed Studies professor Jane Levin, shared their story at a Thursday panel sponsored by Vita Bella Magazine. Photo by Philipp Arndt.

There may have been rose petals and chocolates, but for three Yale faculty couples, Thursday’s panel entitled “Yale Professors Talk About Love and Relationships!” was unlike any other Valentine’s Day dates they have had.

At the event, sponsored by Vita Bella Magazine, the three couples — University President Richard Levin and Directed Studies professor Jane Levin, history professor John Gaddis and theater studies professor Toni Dorfman, and Berkeley College Master Marvin Chun and psychology professor Woo-kyoung Ahn — were subjected to a mix of “newlywed-style” questions, including questions about their proposals as well as working together at Yale. The six professors sat in a line of chairs on the stage of SSS 114, opening up about falling in love to the crowded lecture hall.

“I think there’s no such thing as being too busy to have a good relationship with somebody. It’s really one of the most important things you can do in life,” Chun said. “I’m not proposing you all run off to Toad’s right now or something.”

The event attracted a large number of female students who were in the Valentine’s Day spirit, evidenced by the chorus of giggles and sighs the audience emitted after the professors’ responses. They were not disappointed — the six professors professed their love repeatedly, finished each other’s sentences and perhaps caused single students to feel twinges of bitterness.

To the delight of the audience, the discussion began when Vita Bella Editor-in-Chief Shira Telushkin ’14, who moderated the panel, asked when each professor realized his or her partner was the person they wanted to marry. Jane Levin responded “Fall semester, junior year at Stanford, 1966.”

Richard Levin responded by saying “Spring semester,” which drew laughter from the audience — but the laughter quickly changed to gushing when Levin added, “Sophomore year, also 1966,” to his answer.

Ahn and Chun’s relationship developed under different circumstances — over email after an initial introduction, Chun said, adding that he was told it was the only way he could approach a woman. The two cultivated a long-distance relationship for months while Chun finished a postdoctorate in Boston and Ahn worked as an assistant professor in Kentucky.

Gaddis and Dorfman dated for two weeks before he proposed on the fourth date over some nachos and margaritas, and the couple was married before moving to New Haven 15 years ago.

Dorfman said she continues to be excited about her marriage because of the way she feels when Gaddis wakes up and joins her at breakfast every morning.

“I read the paper, it takes me an hour and a half to drink my coffee, and then I hear, coming down the steps, these very whispery footsteps,” Dorfman said, starting to pat her chest, “and my heart starts beating like this every morning.”

Richard and Jane Levin remembered reading “War and Peace” aloud to each other every night for months when they studied at Oxford University. While they said they could not think of any major fights they have had as a couple, Jane Levin recalled a disagreement they had about their cats, insisting that Richard Levin could not wait until they died.

“They lived for 19 years,” Richard Levin exclaimed, gesturing widely before wiping away a tear of mirth.

The professors all extolled the importance of loving relationships, which they advised students to make time for even while busy with other affairs at Yale.

“[Being in love] makes up for what’s missing in yourself,” Gaddis said. “There’s something missing in all ourselves that requires some balance, some compensation.”

Margaret Zhang ’14 said she loved the panel and especially enjoyed listening to Jane Levin’s bubbly and personable manner of speech.

“We got to see a really real, fantastic and funny side of all these awesome and inspirational people,” Zhang added.

Vita Bella is Yale’s “positive-living” magazine, dedicated to celebrating beauty.

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