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From Grad School to Tenure Together: Love at First Write

By Lilyen McCarthy

As we celebrate Valentine’s Day this month, honoring new and seasoned love, we commend two professors on campus who have been together for nearly 30 years. Dr. Lahney Preston-Matto and Dr. Michael Matto both work as English professors in Adelphi’s English Department in the College of Arts and Sciences. The two met in their first year of grad school at New York University in 1991 and started dating in 1994.

The professors preach communication as one of the most important keys to success in a relationship.

English professors Lahney Preston-Matto and Michael Matto met as graduate students and have been married since 2000. Their work-life balance is based on communication.

Working together in the same environment for so long, the two commented on their time as colleagues in the same department.“It could be suffocating having the same job, working in the same field and doing the same things. We have worked against that by talking about everything all the time,” Preston-Matto explained. Working through grad school together Preston-Matto and Matto discussed their plans. While one was working on their writing toward a PhD in English Literature at NYU, the other was working to help support and vice versa.

Matto earned his PhD in 1998 and Preston-Matto in 2000–the same year the couple got married.

“May 2000 was a big month for me. I defended my dissertation, had graduation and got married,” said Preston-Matto.

In 2002, a mutual friend from grad school told the two about a visiting professor position opening at Adelphi. Preston-Matto decided to apply for the job and was hired. In that year, four positions opened up in the English Department, one being a Medievalist professor and the other as a Writing Center director on a tenure track. Preston-Matto was hired as the Medievalist professor and Matto the Writing Center director. By 2003, both professors were working together at Adelphi. Preston-Matto had started as a visiting professor, becoming an assistant professor on a tenure track in 2003. Matto was hired to start the Writing Center and oversee expository writing, working half in administrative work, half faculty.

Communication was especially important working together at Adelphi.

“It was always really important at work to remind everyone that we are separate people. We always refused to be each other at work,” said Matto. As adjunct professors at Iona University before Adelphi, the two worked with an older married couple that “ran the [English] department” at the school. The Mattos wanted to make this clear that this was not their goal.

“It’s something we had to be conscious of,” said Matto. During a faculty meeting, the two told the staff they would not be each other’s communication. They made this easy by alternating their schedules. While one was on campus, the other would be at home with the kids.

“The nice part with working in the same field is we completely understand each other’s job, the stresses and pressures and when specifically, those happen. We never have a situation where the other person doesn’t understand,” said Matto.

Preston-Matto was pregnant with their first child, Coulson, in 2004 when Adelphi didn’t have a maternity leave policy. She had to hire people to take over her classes temporarily and then returned to campus for finals that spring. Because of her experience, administration was inspired to create a parental leave policy. Two years later, their youngest, Arthur, was born in February, and Preston-Matto was able to utilize this new policy.

“Having two kids in two years, your research agenda takes a little bit of a hit,” said Preston-Matto.

Now, Coulson, 18, studies at Bard College as a freshman, while Arthur is in the midst of his junior year in high school, turning 17 on February 15.

In the last nearly 30 years they have been together, the biggest tip the two have is to “remember, you are a team working on the problem. The problem is the enemy, not each other. It’s not about placing blame but about figuring it out together,” said Matto. They have battled problems together, getting through grad school, working in the same environment and having two kids while first starting out on tenure-track jobs.

“Don’t keep score. Never, ‘I did this so now you have to do that.’ It just won’t work out that way,” said Matto.

For their first time at Adelphi, the two are working together for the study-abroad course, Literary Landscapes. Preston-Matto is the head professor for the course and Matto is the second professor attending the trip to Europe in March. They still hold onto their value of staying separate and maintaining alternating schedules, but did not mind an opportunity to work together on this project. Both are excited for the opportunity.

With the holiday of love coming up, both agree they have never had a Valentine’s Day tradition between them or with their children.

“Actually St. Valentine was martyred by people throwing stones, and he was beheaded, a gruesome event to celebrate with flowers and chocolate. I often encourage people to throw chocolates at others to celebrate instead,” said Preston-Matto.

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