Colby Faculty and the local community

Recently, the Echo polled the academic

faculty to learn their towns of

residence and their priorities in choosing

them. Of the 113 faculty members

who responded, 97 responded

that they live in Waterville, and 15

responded that they live outside of

Waterville. Colby has 180 full-time

faculty members and 32 part-time faculty.

The perception of Waterville as

a “livable” community was only average,

and the majority of professors said

that they chose to live in Waterville

primarily because of its proximity to

Colby’s campus.

The nearby towns of Belgrade, Fairfield,

Sidney, and Wilton are the most

common places of residence for professors

polled who chose to live outside

of Waterville. Others commute

from China, Rome, Pittsfield, and even

Portland. In the survey, most professors

responded that they primarily

chose to live outside of Waterville because

they were looking for a different

type of community or culture.

In spite of the relatively negative

results we found, two professors—

Professor of Theater and Dance James

Thurston and Professor of Geology

Bruce Rueger—expressed overwhelmingly

positive sentiments about their

experiences living in Waterville.

Thurston has worked at Colby for

28 years. He has lived in Waterville

for the entirety of his Colby career,

just a short 10-minute

walk from campus.

He says that he takes

advantage of the close

distance, walking to

school frequently.

“My wife and I moved

here from Chicago.

We didn’t anticipate

staying long, but

we loved living and

working here, and we

thought it was a great

place to raise our two

daughters,” he said.

Thurston describes

his wife and himself as

“community people,” and explains that

both of them have played an active

role in the Waterville community in

their time here. “We attend the Pleasant

Street United Methodist Church,

and from 1988 to 2011 I was directly

engaged in working with the Waterville

Opera House—it’s a magnificent

cultural place.”

Thurston does admit, however, that

his primary reason for choosing to live

in Waterville is because of its proximity

to the Colby campus. “I have to

come back frequently for rehearsals in

the evenings, and this way I can have

dinner with my family and then easily

make my way back to campus.”

Another longtime professor, Rueger,

has taught in the Colby Geology Department

for 32 years. In that time he

has lived a short two miles away from

campus. He wrote in the survey, “Our

home is in a pretty residential area,

only a mile from downtown. It’s really

convenient because I can walk [to Colby]

or snowshoe here or ride a bike.”

Rueger and his wife were initially

attracted to Waterville because it offered

an urban community landscape.

“We thought about living around in

the outside areas—out in the country—

but decided that if we had kids

or needed to access stores it would be

more convenient to live in Waterville.

Both my kids took advantage of doing

things here at the College: art, music,

hockey, etc. Waterville High School

plays their home games at Colby and

all of their practices are at Colby. They

also went to a lot of clinics that were

put on at Colby: baseball, softball, and

hockey.”

His children also frequented the

Colby libraries. “They would come to

Colby on their vacations and hang out

in the library, watch movies, and use

the computers. I think they got a good

briefing of what college would be like,”

he said.

Although his children took advantage

of having the Colby community

close by, Rueger says he sees a separation

between Colby and the Waterville

community. However, he sees promise

of the separation being breached with

the new developments that the college

had planned for the downtown Waterville

area. “I think that new businesses

and places to live would bring in more

people. It would generally improve the

cross-section of folks down there.”

He continues, “I’m excited about the

things [Colby has planned] for downtown.

It seems like there is a lot of good

opportunity down there.”

Professor Thurston agrees with

Rueger that the new developments

that the college has planned for Waterville

will improve relationships

between Colby and the Waterville

communities. “I think that it would

be fabulous. I think that Colby and

President Greene are building on

past strengths between the school

and the community. I think that it’s

really exciting.”

Aside from creating and improving

relationships with the Waterville

community, Thurston believes that a

prosperous surrounding city will have

prospective students viewing Colby

more favorably. “If you’re a prospective

student or parent driving through

downtown Waterville, wouldn’t seeing

the vibrancy of the town be appealing?

There’s a lot of Colby dollars going

down there to boost the economy.

That has led to major employers coming

into the area, and maybe the area

will expand and grow so it becomes

more appealing.”

It was found that 74

percent of professors

polled would like to

see Colby invest in the

Waterville community

and culture. With

new developments

to the community

they could see Waterville

develop into

a town that professors

genuinely want

to live in because of its

culture and thriving

businesses, not just

because of its close

proximity to campus.

Before college, to students, teachers

existed in a warped reality—only in

the classroom and solely as a teacher.

If you saw them outside of school, it

felt odd and unnatural. But at Colby,

students are encouraged to develop

personal relationships with their professors,

and they begin to expect to

see them outside of the classroom—at

their sports games, concerts, gallery

openings, etc. It is not unusual to sit

down to lunch or dinner with a professor,

see them in the gym, or out in

town with their family.

Chair of the Government department,

Professor Sandy Maisel, describes

the unique expectation put

upon liberal arts professors. “Colby is

a residential liberal arts college, which

to me implies a faculty member commitment

to other things students do

besides being in the classroom.”

When Maisel first arrived at Colby,

he lived with his family in Clinton,

Maine, about 20 minutes away from

campus. Since then he has lived on

Colby’s campus in the Mary Low

apartment, in a house in Waterville,

and he now lives in Rome, Maine,

just under 30 minutes away. Maisel

believes that living further away from

campus can add difficulty to being an

active presence on campus outside of

the classroom. “I think that it is difficult

to [be present] if you live far away,

unless you decide to make a commitment

and say, for example, I’m going

to stay up at school Tuesday, Wednesday,

and Thursdays each week.”

Professor of French Audrey Brunetaux

expresses similar sentiments.

“I’m here at Colby because I want to

be a part of the liberal arts environment

and my student’s lives. I’ve been

to the different acapella concerts; I

go to lectures and plays.” However,

Audrey has had to find a certain balance

with her involvement here at

Colby outside of the classroom since

she moved to Portland from Fairfield

a year and a half ago. “I do make it

a point to be here even when sometimes

it’s challenging and I have to be

here twelve to fourteen hours a day.

Once you find the balance, you can

live in Portland and still be present

and visible on campus.”

Brunetaux is not alone in this challenge.

She says, “I see a lot of other

Portland faculty staying here, even

staying overnight to make sure that

they can attend events in the evening

and such.”

One of these professors is Professor

of Government Walter Hatch

who keeps homes in both Waterville

and Portland. In trying to maintain a

presence on campus, Hatch has faced

obstacles, some of them fairly expensive.

“At dinnertime, I enjoy being able

to socialize with students in the dining

halls, as well as with faculty and staff

colleagues off campus. I especially enjoy

being able to attend evening events

on campus. That was very difficult to

do when I participated in the Portland-

Waterville carpool, which usually

required me to leave campus right at

5 p.m. When I was part of the carpool,

and I wanted to attend evening events,

I had two choices: I could drive home

late at night and then get up early to return

to campus, or I could crash in the

guest bedrooms of colleagues or stay at

the Best Western motel in Waterville.

In an average month, I used to spend a

few hundred dollars on lodging at the

Best Western.”

Having a room in Waterville has

now helped Professor Hatch find a

balance between a comfortable living

arrangement and being an active

presence on campus. “Having a room

in Waterville is great; it eliminates the

long commute from Portland, which

I did for several years. Now, on an

average week, I have only one long

round-trip drive. But it also means I

spend way too much time in my office—

sometimes all night… Now I

have a nice room, with a view of Miller

and Lorimer.”

Although Brunetaux and Hatch

work hard to connect with their students

and be an active presence on

campus, they still find that there is

generally a stigma attached to living

in Portland or other towns outside of

Waterville. Brunetaux says, “I think

that there is a stigma here on campus

if you do move to Portland you will

exclude yourself from the community,

and that you will not participate in

Colby activities. And I think that is the

wrong idea.”

Brunetaux counters this notion by

elaborating on her deep commitment

to the community. “Just to give you

an example, I was here last weekend

on both Saturday and Sunday because

we had activities within the department.

Just yesterday I had to stay to

go through rehearsals with students

who were putting on a French play…

It doesn’t happen every night because

that would be impossible, even if I

lived here, but I try to make a point of

being present on campus.”

Hatch believes that the “Portland

stigma” should be discussed more

openly. “We should be talking about

this issue more routinely, and more rationally.

Critics who believe the Portland

carpoolers are ‘not committed

to our community’ fail to realize how

deeply engaged in campus life many

of these non-residents are. This is anecdotal

evidence, but—for example—I

see as many of the “commuters,” proportionally,

at evening events as I see

colleagues who are local residents.

Again, the trend of living away from

Waterville is well established, and finger

pointing won’t reverse it.”

At the end of the day, the question

still remains: if living in or near Waterville

makes it easier to be present on

campus, then why not live in Waterville?

For these particular professors

the top three answers were culture,

travel, and family reasons.

On the decision to live on a lake in

Rome, Maine, Maisel said, “It was a

choice about lifestyle, which was that

I wanted to live down in the country,

and it was choice dictated by not having

children who tied me down anymore.

“I wanted to

be an active presence

on campus—as you

know I attend a lot

of sporting events for

both men and women

and a lot of stuff

within the arts like

theater and various

lectures. Once I didn’t

have the children as a

‘bind’ I could still live

where I wanted to live

and stay on campus

because, you know,

who cares if I get

home later?”

Hatch spoke to the

unique qualities Portland has to offer.

“The pros of living in Portland are perhaps

obvious: a relatively diverse population,

a thriving cultural space with

good food, coffee shops, music, and

art galleries,” he said. Brunetaux also

expressed that Portland’s culture was a

key factor in her choice to live there. “It

has a lot to offer in terms of cultures, in

terms of food, the art scene, concerts,

and theater. There’s a lot going on and

it’s very quaint too. In some ways it reminds

me of European cities.”

Brenetaux has also found an essence

of her home, France, within the

Portland landscape. “I grew up not so

far from the ocean back in France. I’d

always had access to the coast when I

grew up. So moving to Portland was

really nice. You can go to the beach,

you can hike on the coast, and all of

the nature and landscape was more

appealing to me.”

Thurston acknowledges that living

in Portland has its benefits, saying,

“Portland is a great city. Portland is a

much more diverse city [than Waterville].

It’s bigger, it’s much more young

and vibrant, it has access to the airport,

restaurants, and an overall interesting

cultural scene. If you walk around

Portland it’s a very vibrant cultural life.”

However, like many professors at

Colby, Thurston’s family and desire to

be near campus made living in Waterville

a better choice for him. “I can see

why it would be very appealing [to live

in Portland], and if I didn’t have to be

at rehearsals all evenings my wife and I

would probably contemplate Portland

as well. As a faculty member, my students

ask me to attend a lot of events

in the evening and I view that as a part

of my role as a teacher here. If I were

farther away, I’m not so sure I’d go to

as many events.”

On the other side of the spectrum,

both Hatch and Brunetaux are frequent

travelers because their families

live in other places—Hatch’s in Seattle

and Brunetaux’s in France. Therefore,

having easy access to an airport is a priority.

Hatch explained that in Portland

there is “quick access to the jetport and

transportation center. I fly into and out

of New England quite often, so living

in Portland reduces travel time.”

For these reasons, it is easy to comprehend

why a professor who is living

alone would want to be near a thriving

city and an airport. Hatch says,

“My kids have grown, and they are off

on their own. My wife lives in Seattle.

For a person like me who lives alone

(unless my wife is visiting), Waterville

can feel a bit lonely. I

know colleagues who

aren’t bothered by

that, who are happy

living alone, or with

cats and dogs, or with

friendly neighbors

nearby. But those

folks must be stronger

than me.”

Maisel also expressed

an opinion

about living as a single

professor. “I was never

a single person, other

than as a single parent,

while working at

Colby and that certainly

made a geographic decision for

me to me as far as where I would live.

But a lot of our single faculty members

have no ties to Waterville, so is Portland

a more exciting city that Waterville?

Yeah.”

Maisel believes that making downtown

Waterville more attractive to single

professors should be a priority in

Colby’s plans to redevelop the downtown

area. “So in my view, President

Greene’s initiative with downtown

Waterville is really critical, not quite

frankly, for students, but rather to

draw young faculty and to keep young

faculty connected to our mission here.”

President Greene’s plans to develop

downtown Waterville has aroused interest

in a lot of the faculty. Hatch says,

“I’m excited by Colby’s plans to develop

Waterville, which could become

a more attractive place for people like

me. Actually, one can see exciting

changes already happening in the local

arts community—even before the

redevelopment plan takes effect.”

Even so, Hatch does not see the

trend of professors living outside of

Waterville ending any time soon. “I

know that some faculty and staff, especially

younger folks without kids, will

continue to live outside Waterville—in

places like Portland, Freeport, Brunswick,

Hallowell, and Belgrade Lakes.

I hope the College will reach out to

those folks and try to accommodate

them as at least part-time downtown

Waterville residents. Shared housing

should be on the table. But I don’t

think the commuter trend will be reversed

anytime soon, even with the

redevelopment plan.”

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