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.”