Love in Academia: Cobb and Sluzki

Posted: February 8, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Married couples in academia often seek positions at colleges or universities where both spouses can work, and most institutions are eager to arrange a “package deal” to accommodate them. George Mason University is no exception. There are many couples on the faculty and staff, and in this week leading up to Valentine’s Day, the Gazette profiles some of them.

Thermodynamics at First Sight

By Fran Rensbarger

Who: Sara Cobb, director of the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (ICAR) and Carlos Sluzki, research professor at ICAR, College of Nursing and Health Science (CNHS), and the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study.

Sara Cobb and Carlos Sluzki
Photo by Pam Harris

How? He says: “We met at 8 a.m. in a seminar of a major congress of mental health in 1980, and about 8:02 a.m., we were both enthralled. ”

She says: “I was minding my own business. He came and sat down beside me, which was very problematic, because the room was almost empty. To have him sit beside me was pretty direct. We both were at the 8 o’clock session that was a videotaped lecture of Gregory Bateson, a very famous anthropologist, giving a lecture on ‘The Second Law of Thermodynamics and the Role of Entropy in Social Systems.’ And there was already thermodynamics between us, so it was an appropriate lecture. And then he made a very funny comment about the television screen. I remember it to this day. I thought it was very funny. And that was the first thing he said to me.”

He says: “From there on we increased contact, and we’ve been together ever since. We courted at a distance for several months, a year perhaps, and then we were ready to consolidate households.”

On consolidating households: Their combined household had a total of seven kids, ages 2 to 18. “That led to a very big house in the Berkshires. It’s been a lot of fun, and a lot of action,” Sluzki says. “It was difficult, but we were ready. It was the right moment and we were the right persons.”

How they got to Mason: She says: “I came in September of 2001, and Carlos a few months later. When this directorship of ICAR opened up, people called me from here and asked if I would be interested. I had known about ICAR for years and respected it and valued its standing and position in the field. I started conversations with folks here, and the more I learned, the more I liked, so I applied and got the job.”

He says: “in turn, Sara brought me to Mason. That was a good enough reason. To that I should add that I found at Mason interesting projects, problems, and activities. It has been a very stimulating shift from my prior activities, program development in the medical world, to a more openly academic environment.”

She says: “He was a chair of a department of psychiatry, editor of major journals, did research, gave keynotes at conferences, had a rich research life, but in a clinical environment. This has been a new chapter in his rich life.”

What are the advantages of working here together? He says:

“I see important advantages in the sense that we are sharing an ecology, the larger environment of the university. It allows us to have multiple perspectives, but at the same time, understand much better the other’s context, because we are familiar with it. We share also a network, but at the same time, have our own space, as we are in different areas of the university.”

She says: “Sometimes we’ll be in the same building, but I don’t know he’s there. And even when we know the other one is around, we may not have time to talk. It’s not like sharing that ecology translates into time for coffee, or hanging around talking.”

He says: “But there’s always time for a wink.”

She says: “There is the pleasure of seeing him regularly—no, not every day, but certainly more than if we were working in different institutions. Because I think he’s a really nice person, it’s really fun for me that other people get to know him. I came back from a meeting yesterday, and he was standing on the desk, hanging the guardian angel he gave me for Christmas up over my desk. And everybody here was all atwitter, and excited, and telling me the story of him on the desk, and afraid he was going to fall, and the angel was so pretty, and wasn’t he so nice. Really, for me it’s a pleasure that other people have the pleasure of knowing and liking him.”

What are the disadvantages of working in the same place? He says: “I don’t see any. While we are part of the large system of Mason, we enjoy being around each other.”

She says: “Sometimes, I’ve had women say, ‘Isn’t it hard because you are not able to keep your personal life separate?’ I don’t want my personal life separated from the professional. Just like the personal is political, the professional is personal. So I don’t find a disadvantage. My life is part of my work. My work is part of my life. I don’t have the division between life and work that was part of my father’s life in the ’50’s. The integration is sort of a stimulus, so it seems sort of natural to have someone I love hanging around.”

He says: “For me, it gives some pleasure also that people I know, know her, too.”

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