It’s Valentine’s Day and, while some students are showing off their bouquets of red roses or trying to guess which secret admirer sent them a candygram, Barnard dance professor Lynn Garafola is receiving a truly romantic Valentine’s Day gift. Her husband, DeWitt Clinton Professor of History, Eric Foner, is returning home from his scholar-in-residence program in London to spend a precious few days with his wife and daughter.
And they’re not the only academic couple at Columbia. Among the more prominent are Dean of Columbia College Austin Quigley and Barnard professor Patricia Denison, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and School of International and Public Affairs professor Anya Schiffrin, and professor Jagdish Bhagwati and professor Padma Desai.
Foner and Garafola met in 1975 at a “Freedom Seder” social, where Garafola poured some espresso coffee over Foner. The two married five years later and now both teach at Columbia. Their ties with their alma mater run as deep as their affection for each other—Garafola is a Barnard alumna, while Foner graduated from Columbia College in 1963. Their daughter Daria grew up with Low steps as her playground. “We just feel sometimes we know every nook and cranny of the campus,” Garafola said, “There’s an intimate connection with the campus... and we both share that.”
They also share much more. Although their fields are very different, the couple jokes over their mutual interest in “reconstruction,” which can refer to either the recreation of older works in dance terminology or to the period after the Civil War in American history.
Other couples, like professor Sharyn O’Halloran and her husband professor David Epstein, work closely in the same field—in their case, political science. The two have co-authored many of their works. “Our complementary skills lead to a great partnership,” she said. This collaboration is present in their home as well, where, according to O’Halloran, an economist, they “split household chores along comparative advantage and our marginal rates of productivity are maximized at every turn.”
In Garafola’s house, she is the cook—and an excellent one at that, according to her husband. Foner takes care of laundry, cleaning up after dinner, and shopping, although he said his wife “may disagree with that description.” In the household of professor Rashid Khalidi and SIPA Assistant Dean Mona Khalidi, the latter is the cook, except in the summer when her husband takes over for barbecuing.
Many say having a common workplace eases communication both at home and on the job. “It’s helpful to hear from someone who’s constantly in touch with students,” professor Khalidi said. “It gives me a different perspective.”
Other benefits range from finding substitutes easily, to livening up a sleepy class. When Barnard anthropology professor Severin Fowles had to miss class one day, his wife, Columbia adjunct scholar El Morris, filled in for him. She introduced herself to the class by saying, “Hello ... I’m sleeping with your professor.” After an awkward pause, students exploded in laughter and began whispering to each other, “Are they married?”
According to Fowles, who met his wife on an archeological dig, being able to share students with his wife is “kind of cool.” Most of the students Morris took out to an archeological excavation in Egypt had taken Fowles’ class before. “The students kind of become a part of our extended family,” Fowles said.
But sharing vocational venues isn’t married paradise all the time. For Fowles and Morris, the biggest disadvantage is economic. “Neither of us has a banker or stockbroker making tons of money to support the other,” Fowles said. Garafola also said that sometimes it would be nice to talk about something other than Barnard or Columbia at the dinner table. But according to Foner, the biggest advantage and disadvantage are actually one and the same—“seeing each other all the time.”
But with exams to grade, research to complete, and students to teach, finding time for Valentine’s Day can be challenging. Khalidi said he would be “doing something very un-romantic” Thursday—speaking at a panel on Gaza, organized by the Arab Students Association.
For Fowles and Morris, Valentine’s Day will be devoted to family time, with plans that include decorating cards with their four-year-old daughter Jules and taking her out to Le Monde so she can enjoy her favorite meal, a bowl of steaming mussels.
Garafola planned the most traditional Valentine’s Day activity of all—baking a very special chocolate cake for Foner, whom she described as a “real chocolate lover.”