Mixing business and pleasure

They may be married, teach in the same department and have similar research fields, but ask Eric and Carol Meyers how they met, and they just might give you different answers.

When asked if they met because they are in the same field, Eric, director of graduate studies for the religion department, responded "Yes." But Carol, director of undergraduate studies for the religion department, had a different take on things. "No. It was because I heard you sing," she said. "He has a beautiful voice."

The couple, married for 38 years, quickly cleared up the confusion, explaining that Carol, when she was a senior at Wellesley College, met Eric, working on his master's at Brandeis University, after hearing him sing. The fact that they were interested in the same career "escalated the interest" between the two.

On this, the day of love, couples across campus will celebrate the time they spend together. For those professors who teach in the same department, this time spent together is sometimes boundless - a good thing considering the demands of their jobs.

"Being an academic is a pretty absorbing career, so meeting another academic is good. They can be more understanding," said John Thompson, chair of the history department whose wife, Janet Ewald, is an associate professor in the department of history.

Overall, the couples are very independent - they drive separate cars to campus and have different schedules. But they have the unique opportunity to share in what takes up about one-third of every person's day - their job.

"We're in each other's worlds, so it makes it easier to understand each other's lives," Carol said.

Often a major obstacle to married academics is finding jobs at the same institution. Christine Wall, assistant research professor in the biological anthropology and anatomy department, and her husband Daniel Schmitt, assistant professor of biological anthropology and anatomy, met while studying as graduate students in BAA at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

"We would never have met had it not been for graduate school," Wall said. "But it makes it much more difficult [to secure stable jobs in the same place] if you're both academics."

But, to the benefit of their students, these couples have found a way to stay together. Wall was the first to secure a job at Duke, working as a post-doctorate fellow with William Hylander, director of the Primate Center and professor of BAA. Her husband was given a temporary post, but soon after was offered a tenure-track job while Wall stayed on in a non-tenure track position.

"We're lucky that Duke has a big department in BAA and that our more senior professors really valued both of us," she said.

Thompson and Ewald's situation differs because the two professors had worked together for years and were simply friends. Then, Ewald invited Thompson, who was driving back from his former home in Canada, to visit her at her parents' home in Wisconsin. From there, things progressed.

When they married about one year ago, Thompson was chair of the department, and, thus, his wife's superior. "We became a couple right at the same time I became chair. I don't think it caused any trouble, but I don't know what my colleagues think," Thompson said with a chuckle.

Following his own guidelines, which also matched Duke's "Policy on Consensual Relationships between Superiors and Subordinates," Thompson recuses himself of any administrative duties involving his wife, such as setting her salary or presiding over her evaluations.

"She has not asked for any special favors," Thompson said and then smiled with an additional thought. "Although she did ask to borrow my Allen Building parking pass this morning."

So just how much do these couples see each other during the typical work day? The answer varies. The Meyers - the first married couple in the Arts and Sciences to be tenured in the same department - explained that while their offices are just about 25 feet apart, they rarely interact with each other while on the job.

"Because we live together at home, we give each other space during the day," Carol said. "We try not to intrude on each other's lives during the day and then at dinner, we kind of de-brief each other and moan if we want to." She added that when their children were still living at home, they made a conscious effort to avoid the constant talk of work at home so the kids would not feel left out.

Thompson and Ewald manage to sneak in some lunches together when they have time. The couple, who lives as faculty-in-residence in Trent Drive Hall, sometimes act very much like a typical student couple. Thompson explained that "at 5:30 today we're supposed to take a walk together," and added that he and Ewald sometimes meet for a drink at Charlie's on Ninth Street after work.

He also mentioned that he and his wife have had a hard time with their schedules this semester because, while he teaches a Monday-Wednesday class, Ewald has a Tuesday-Thursday class. "So I'm up late Sunday and Tuesday nights preparing, and she's up late Monday and Wednesday nights. It has messed up our lives a little bit," he said.

While Thompson's and Ewald's specialties do not overlap, this is not the case for the couple in the religion department. "We do collaborate sometimes, which has its own pluses and minuses," Carol explained.

She added that students have something to gain from learning from professors who are not only specialists in their field, but also married.

"I think one of the best things we do as a couple is teach a class together," she said. "We disagree in front of the students, so they understand the professor isn't always 'right'."

Schmitt and Wall team-teach an anatomy course in the fall. Like the history buffs, their fields of research do not overlap, but this does not mean they are distant from one another while on the job.

"His office is on the other side of the building, but we see each other all the time," Wall said. "It takes getting used to spending 24 hours a day together, but for us it works really well."

And so, at least in the history, religion and BAA departments, it looks to be a happy Valentine's Day at work.


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