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Uprooting: Marriages in Academia

All PostsFeaturesUprooting: Marriages in Academia

Kavya Gopal, Regina Marie Lee

Photo by Pareen Chaudhari

Yale-NUS faculty members remain together through change.
Yale-NUS faculty members remain together through change.

“How’d you like to move to Singapore?”

“What, where?”

When Dean of Faculty Charles Bailyn first proposed moving halfway across the world from New Haven, Yale to Singapore in 2009, his wife, Dr. Rebecca Tannenbaum, was a little hesitant. “I didn’t know much about the country at the time. I had all sorts of questions”.

Many faculty members had to move large distances to be teaching at Yale-NUS College today. Uprooting from one end of the world to another is never easy, especially when you have to consider your partner and family.

For some faculty couples in Yale-NUS, the decision was not as difficult. “Given that my dissertation research centred around migration out of Southeast Asia and the fact that I had lived in Singapore for many years, it seemed like a great fit,” said Professor Anju Paul, whose husband, Vice-Rector Eduardo Lage-Otero, applied after she got the job.

Others, like Professors Simon Duffy and Sandra Field, were managing a long distance relationship before they applied and settled at Yale-NUS. “Simon was at the University of Sydney, in the Department of Philosophy on a three-year post-doctorate while I was finishing up my PhD in America” said Field.

Singapore too was an ideal location for them. “It is one of the major centres in the region, a region to which we feel, as Australians, to belong to. We will get the best of both worlds: we will be able to work and raise our children in the rich multicultural milieu of Singapore; while retaining close ties with our families in Australia.”

Tannenbaum too became less apprehensive about moving to Singapore with time. “Since Yale-NUS didn’t formally exist yet, [Charles and I] were nominated before there was a formal process for hiring faculty based on our credentials. Part of the deal was if he’s coming to Singapore, I wanted to have a job too. Once we started talking about the project, what we would be doing, and the fact that I wouldn’t have to learn Mandarin in three years to teach, we were both equally excited!” she said.

As Yale-NUS continues to grow with more job openings, Bailyn explained the college’s policy on hiring faculty couples, “We don’t specifically recruit couples, but when a faculty member whom we are interested in hiring has a well-qualified spouse, we consider them for other positions… When we do hire spouses, we always do so because they are very well-qualified for the job, not because of whom they are married to.”

But what is it like working alongside one’s spouse? Tannenbaum admitted to worrying about complications that could arise. She said, “When at Yale, we were both in completely different departments and hardly saw each other during the workday. Working so closely made me a little nervous. I think it’s really important that we keep my role as faculty and [Charles’] role as a Dean separate, otherwise it could get a little awkward.”

Still, most agreed that having one’s partner in Yale-NUS allowed for more time spent together. Paul said, “The work at Yale-NUS never stops, so it helps to have my husband working in the same building as me, so that we can take breaks during the day to go for a coffee or juice run. If we worked in different places, that would be impossible.”

Duffy pointed out that being in the same workplace makes it easier to care for children. He said, “As academics, it is not a given to have workplaces even in the same city, let alone at the same college. Having your partner in the same workplace means that we can look after sick children and still make it to our seminars.”

Children was definitely a factor that faculty couples considered before moving. Paul explained, “Singapore is incredibly safe, and within Yale-NUS, that sense of security is further amplified. It’s lovely knowing that Sebastian and Paloma have more than 300 big brothers and sisters looking out for them.”

Whether through an introduction at the fiftieth birthday of a mutual professor – Duffy and Field, a meeting in New York City – Paul and Lage-Otero, or a fortuitous blind date – Bailyn and Tannenbaum, the stories of faculty couples here are nothing short of fairytales. Here’s to the addition of a new and exciting chapter in their lives.

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