Smitten scholars

Three UMKC professor pairs balance work and love

Despite the stresses of school — and the distractions of books, beakers and ballads — several University of Missouri-Kansas City professors have managed to find love. Read on to learn how three professor pairs at UMKC have nurtured strong marriages and careers.

Music of the Heart

After China’s 10-year Cultural Revolution ended and Chinese schools re-opened in the 1970s, Chen Yi enrolled in the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. In the school’s freshman composition class, 25-year-old Yi stood out from her younger classmates. But when she met another student her age — Zhou Long — sparks flew.

“We were a bit older than most freshman students, especially compared with our happy, young students today,” Long said. “But we felt lucky to be able to catch the last train, so to speak. We studied harder in order to make up for the missing time.”

In 1983, the couple tied the knot. Throughout their 26 years of marriage, each spouse has closely critiqued the other’s work and earned several honors.

Yi went on to become the first woman to receive a master’s degree in China. She also was the first woman to present a full evening multimedia orchestral concert in the U.S. — “Chinese Myths Cantata” — in 1996. She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation (1996) and the National Endowment for the Arts (1994), as well as the Lieberson Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1996).

Long has received the Adventurous Programming Award from American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (1999), a Grammy Award (1999) and an Academy Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2003). He also has received fellowships from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations and the National Endowment for the Arts.

While Yi and Long have received several honors, the pair has always made their marriage a priority and maintained a sense of humor.

“When I am too crazy meeting deadlines, my husband will take care of me and make sure I eat,” Yi said. “He understands the requirements of my work better than anyone else.”

In 1998, Yi joined UMKC’s Conservatory of Music and Dance as a distinguished professor of music composition. Long joined the UMKC faculty as a visiting professor of music composition in 2001.

The Law of Attraction

When Bill Black and June Carbone went on a blind date in the 1970s, the pair did not know they would eventually exchange nuptials. After all, June was only in Washington, D.C. for the summer as a temporary law firm associate. “A mutual colleague decided that June was perfect for me because she had a good sense of humor and didn’t dress so well that she would be offended by my fashion faux pas,” Bill said. “The blind date was at a Chinese restaurant.”

Today, Bill (an associate professor of economics in UMKC’s College of Arts and Sciences and an associate professor of law at UMKC’s School of Law) and June (an Edward A. Smith/Missouri Chair of Law, the Constitution and Society) have been married for about 30 years.

In that time, Bill has served as litigation director of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board; deputy director of the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation; senior vice president and general counsel of the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco; senior deputy chief counsel of the Office of Thrift Supervision; executive director of the Institute for Fraud Prevention; and a professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and Santa Clara University School of Law.

June has served as associate dean for Professional Development and Presidential Professor of Ethics and the Common Good at Santa Clara University School of Law and has written about legal issues surrounding marriage, divorce and family obligations. This year, Oxford University Press will publish her new book (co-authored with Naomi Cahn) — “Red Families v. Blue Families.”

Since 2007, the couple has worked at UMKC.

“We were very lucky that the UMKC Department of Economics and School of Law wanted to expand interdisciplinary scholarship, and saw joint appointments as an opportunity instead of a hassle,” Bill said. “The key is making offers to couples where both scholars will be strong assets to their departments.”

Because the couple has overlapping interests, June said they can better critique each other’s work.

Their joint employment at UMKC has made it easier for the two to spend time together, as well.

“Before moving here, I commuted to the University of Texas every week during the academic year from our home in Northern California. June taught at Santa Clara University’s School of Law. That was expensive and tiring,” Bill said. “We now live five minutes from UMKC.”

The Biology of Love

As graduate students in the University of Iowa’s biology program, Mike and Lynda Plamann spent most of their time in the laboratory. But while they were studying chemicals, chemistry was brewing between the two.

“I liked him right away, but it was two years before we went out alone together,” Lynda said.

Today, the couple has been married for 23 years and worked at UMKC’s School of Biological Sciences for more than 11 years. Lynda is an associate professor and director of curriculum and Mike is an associate professor and director of the Fungal Genetics Stock Center.

“We drive to work together, which saves on gas,” Lynda said. “And we have lunch together nearly every day, which is nice!”

Lynda’s research focuses on cell communication during fruiting body formation and sporulation in Myxococcus xanthus — a soil bacterium. Mike’s research focuses on microtubule-associated motors, organelle movement, growth polarity and cytoskeletons.

Working in the same university makes it easy for the couple to relate to each other’s work, as well.

“But working together isn’t for everyone,” Mike said. “We really get along, so there haven’t been too many challenges. But know yourself and your spouse.”

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