Professors find love on campus

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April 1, 2008

1:33 AM

Every morning, millions of married couples wake up to start their days. They go about their daily morning rituals, then part ways.

But for Adam Potkay and his wife Monica, this daily morning ritual ends a little differently. After the two have parted ways, they end up at the same place. Adam and Monica Potkay both teach as professors at the College.

Monica started as an assistant professor in the English department at the College in 1987 after finishing graduate school. Adam obtained a position in the same department the following year. The two met at a cocktail party thrown to introduce Adam to the colleagues of the English department.

“Are you Polish? You look Polish. You look very Polish,” Adam Potkay said when first meeting her. Monica, whose maiden name was Brzezinski, took to his line quite well. The couple ended up dating and eventually marrying in 1991.

Adam got the impression that a few of his colleagues may have disapproved of such an affiliation.

“That’s Adam’s impression, and it’s a valid one,” Monica said. “But nobody made their disapproval obvious.”

At the beginning of their marriage, the Potkays were one of few married couples working within the College community. Now, there are more than 40 professors married to other professors. Most couples, like Professors Jamie Armstrong and Jamie Bartlett, happen to work within the same department.

“It used to be that couples working in the same department were considered almost inappropriate,” Armstrong said. “Now, spousal hires are a common thing. If both instructors are happy, it’s more likely they’ll stay put.”

Armstrong conducts the William and Mary Choir while Bartlett conducts both the Women’s Choir and the Botetourt Chamber Singers. Together, they collaborate for much of their work.

Even within the same department, Armstrong and Bartlett manage to spend time apart. Between juggling two children, work and hectic rehearsal schedules, the two keep their professional schedules independent from each other.

“Weekends are performing times,” Armstrong said. “Working in academia is a vocation. It’s a 24/7 proposition.”

Bartlett first encountered Armstrong when she was an undergraduate student at Mt. Holyoke College, where he was teaching at the time.

They started dating in 1991 while pursing graduate degrees at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. The two married in 1994.
Throughout their relationship, the issue of changing Bartlett’s maiden name was the cause of much debate.

“We realized that we would both be turning in job applications with the name ‘Jamie Armstrong’ written on them. We figured ‘Jamie Bartlett’ would raise less confusion,” Armstrong said.

Like Armstrong and Bartlett, Deborah Noonan applied for a position at the College after her husband, Robert Noonan, was hired to the computer science department.

“I just kind of followed him wherever he went, and found a job when we got there,” she said.

For Deborah, meeting Robert helped to determine her career in teaching. The two met in 1972 when Deborah took one of Robert’s classes. They started dating after she asked him for help on differential equations.

“I called him Dr. Noonan for our first few dates. Then eventually I called him Dr. Bob,” she said. “Now I just call him Bob.” The couple married after Deborah’s senior year.

Deborah said that there are many advantages to working alongside her husband within a single department.

“When our son was younger, we were able to schedule so that one of us could take time off just in case he got sick,” she said. “It was also easier to plan vacations because our breaks were at the same time.”

If Deborah is ever called away, Robert can even substitute for her
introductory computer science courses — but they can easily keep their distance when necessary.

“I can go a whole day without seeing him,” Deborah said. “I can avoid him if we’ve had a fight.”

Neither considers working together to have any disadvantages.
“He’s always been very good at keeping [the] personal from the professional,” Deborah said. When the computer science department goes out to lunch on Fridays, “we’re just two professors in the same department.”

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