The February issue is nigh, but a teaser is hither.

You may have seen them walking together down Low steps, just a hair’s length closer than the average pair of professional colleagues. Maybe you sat next to them at Brownie’s, the architecture school’s classy alternative to Ferris Booth, as they nibbled on croissants and talked dryly of the Frankfurt School, or maybe, they even taught one of your classes together. Married professors: they’re everywhere on Columbia campus–there’s more love in Morningside Heights than you’d think.

      An informal investigation yielded about a dozen married professor couples, in a broad range of departments, as well as a pair or two of lovebirds rumored to be “shacking up” together. Getting face time with these power couples proved to be very difficult. As any undergrad is well aware, it is difficult enough to pin down one professor for a meeting, so busy is the academic life. Getting two in the same room at the same time is near impossible. Philosophy professors Philip and Patricia Kitcher are on leave together in Berlin. Professor Janaki Bakhle (history) is on leave as well and her husband, Professor Nicholas Dirks (Vice President for Arts and Sciences, Franz Boas Professor of Anthropology, and Professor of History) was in Davos, Switzerland when I requested a sit-down. Professors Andrew (English and American Studies) and Dawn Delbanco (art history) politely declined to be interviewed.


    But the ones who were in the country and willing to talk offered an interesting window onto the academic family. Professors Marianne Hirsch (English and women’s studies) and Leo Spitzer (history) have been together since the 1970s, when they were both teaching at Dartmouth. The first sparks of their romance flew as they worked side by side in 1978 on a committee for equal access admission for women there. They’ve been working closely together ever since, writing books—Ghosts of Home: The Afterlife of Czernowitz in Jewish Memory is their current project—and even co-teaching classes, though they are less than vocal about their nuptials in that context. A student who took their seminar “Voice of the Witness: History, Literature, and Law” last semester had no idea they were married, assuming that that they just had a “really close professional relationship,” until a classmate told him otherwise.

      Students in one of English professor Michael Golston’s poetry seminars, however, figured out for themselves that he was hitched to someone in the room. Professor Golston and Spanish lecturer Cherrymae Golston have been married since 1985, and when Mrs. Golston decided to audit her husband’s class one semester, their relationship proved difficult to hide. “One day he got a splinter,” she said, laughing, “and he asked me if I had tweezers. Everybody thought that was a little weird.” Despite their ruse being up, they enjoyed the experience. “He’s really good at what he does,” said the female Golston. “I was just another student. I wrote papers, even.”

      “I graded ‘em,” chimed her husband. 

      Though the Golstons go so far as to share an office, and philosophy professor Carol Rovane has been known to substitute-teach for her philosophy professor husband Akeel Bilgrami, other professor couples exist in entirely separate academic realms and even on different campuses. Genetics professor Ginny Papaioannou teaches and researches at the Columbia Medical School, more than 50 blocks north of the office of Professor Simon Schama (history and art history), her husband of 23 years. They met at the University of Cambridge and have moved together institutionally ever since—first to Oxford, then to Tufts (Papaioannou) and Harvard (Schama) respectively, landing finally at Columbia. “I followed him to Boston and he followed me to New York,” she said. “It was my turn.”

      Unlike Professors Spitzer and Hirsch and the Golstons, their paths never cross during a typical workday, and they don’t share a commute. Papaioannou spends her time managing a mouse lab, while Schama does a lot of traveling and, at the moment, documentary filmmaking with PBS. “Columbia is big enough that we could pretend that we’re not at the same institution,” she said. That said, they are very glad to be at the same institution. “We take a lot of pride in being part of this university,” Papaioannou said. “It’s been good to us and we try to be good to it.” Their institutional loyalty is a family affair: their son Gabriel is a CC senior studying architecture and their daughter Chloe is studying at Cambridge after graduating from Harvard.

      Of course, not all apples fall so close to the academic tree. Professors Hirsch and Spitzer have three sons, none of whom went to Dartmouth, where they grew up, and none who have shown any interest in professional academia; they work in computer networking, politics, and television, respectively. The Golstons’ daughter, who is a Wesleyan student studying abroad in India, where she’s focusing on South Indian dance and voice, aspires to be a pastry chef.

      All three professor-pairs seem to make a point of stoking the romantic fire. During our interview, Hirsch and Spitzer, who exude the warm glow of a couple aging well together, each turned to the other, deferent, before answering a question. The Golstons have a Wednesday night ritual: at 8 p.m., after his seminar lets out, they meet for a drink in the neighborhood (location undisclosed). Papaioannou spoke lovingly of her husband and avows that “the marriage comes before the institution.” Because Schama works with the BBC, they keep two apartments, one in New York and one in London, and spend as much time together as possible. Papaioannou denies any sense of competition. “I’m just immensely proud of him,” she said, and for his part she explained that he takes an interest in her work, describing him as a “scientifically educated layperson.” “I don’t expect him to know molecular details, but he knows the process and the political surroundings.” He defers to her completely in matters of fashion, however. “This morning he asked me what to wear on today’s shoot.” 

      When asked if they could imagine being married to someone who wasn’t a professor, someone who worked—god forbid—a nine-to-five job, the answer seemed to be a resounding no. Professor Golston admitted that he’d never even dated anyone who worked within standard office hours. They all appear to revel in the academic lifestyle and the temporal and intellectual freedom it allows them. Professor Papaioannou thinks it would be difficult to be married to someone in another profession. “Our work life is our life,” she said. “We don’t put it down at 5 p.m.” The other two couples are a little wary of this idea, and careful to maintain a life apart from Columbia and academia. Professors Hirsch and Spitzer appreciate that living in New York makes it easy for them to have friends who aren’t academics. The Golstons rely on their 13-year-old son and dog to pull them away from their desks.

      Undoubtedly, it takes a certain kind to be a full-time academic, and what emerges from these sundry love stories is that if you are that kind, you’re probably going to want to tie the knot with one of your breed. But, European pied-à-terres and dawn-to-dusk intellectualism aside—not to mention those weird vacations they call sabbaticals—a marriage is a marriage is a marriage. Professors…they’re just like us!

– Hannah Goldfield, with illustration by Shaina Rubin