Academics in Love

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Jennifer Horne and Jonathan Kahana have been partners for 26 years and met in a graduate seminar at the University of Minnesota, where they both signed up to do a presentation on the same novel.

At UC Santa Cruz faculty makes up about 2,800 members of the institution, which includes professors and lectures, but what happens when their best academic collaborator is their romantic partner?

Tesla Jeltema first met Stefano Profumo 12 years ago through a mutual friend while Jeltema worked in Carnegie Observatories and Profumo worked at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The professors have worked as research partners in the Physics Department at UCSC for about nine years.

“As my wife, I would say she is my best collaborator because I think very highly of her professionally, and I think I am fortunate enough that in my line of work sometimes I need her professional skills,” Profumo said.

They originally bonded over astronomy and physics and got married about 10 years ago before relocating to UCSC.

“I am in astrophysics and my parents are both scientists,” Jeltema said. “I just loved anything that was about space from when I was in elementary school […] So I was doomed from an early age.”

“For me I am a particle physicist, and I got into particle physics because it sounded like the hardest thing to do and I am sort of a majestic type,” Profumo said.

Recently, the scientific community acknowledged Profumo and Jeltema’s research, as they discovered alternate origins of dark matter which is accredited in many academic and scientific journals as a breakthrough on dark matter.

Jeltema explained it has not always been easy working together, but having a partner with mutual apprehension created a better understanding in their relationship. “You have to value each other enough to value what the other person wants,” Jeltema said. “To work hard as a couple to reach the goals that you want.”

Many may not see the relationship between academia and romance, but Profumo and Jeltema’s faculty relationship is not an isolated case.

Academic relationships are a growing trend in universities across the U.S. Clayman Institute for Gender Research surveyed 9,000 full-time faculty at 13 U.S. research universities and found that 36 percent have academic partners.

Concerns may arise as there could be conflicts of interest, but there are policies in place at many universities to restrict unfair bias in faculty relationships.    

UCSC has a policy called Employment of Near Relatives which states, “a member of the University staff shall not participate in the process of review and decision-making on any matter concerning the appointment, promotion, salary, retention or termination of a near relative.”

Jennifer Horne and Jonathan Kahana, assistant and associate professors of the film and digital media department respectively, have been partners for 26 years and met in a graduate seminar at the University of Minnesota, where they both signed up to do a presentation on the same novel.

“For many years, we were working in different cities on the east coast, traveling back and forth to see each other on weekends by planes, trains and buses,” Kahana said. “I refused to get a cell phone or even figure out how they work, so the only thing left to do was to move to California together.”

Kahana focuses on documentary film and American media and Horne’s research focuses on American film and media practices overlooked by mainstream media. They have been working in the same department for five years.

When asked why they decided to go into film Horne said, “not the money.”

They explained how they make a really good team by reading each other’s work and hearing about each other’s research, especially on works they’ve published together, but there is some competition between them.

“Oh, there’s rivalry,” Horne said.

“It’s both a lot of fun and a competition. We’re very critical of each other, but we have fun doing it,” Kahana said, interrupting.  
“You’ve always gotta get the last word in, don’t you,” Horne said.