Commuting profs face long drives, hotels

History professor Ronald Edsforth commutes from Greenwich, N.Y., to Hanover. He's had three accidents on the long commute, twice in bad winter weather.

For Dartmouth professors who commute long distances to school, early mornings, unexpected delays and late nights on e-mail are part of life. Despite the tiresome hours spent in cars and planes and the risks of extended travel, these professors find — for various reasons — that it’s worth the commute to Hanover.

Before moving to his current home in New Jersey, history professor Steven Ericson traveled back and forth from Morgantown, West Virginia, to Dartmouth.

“When I first started commuting, for six or so years I rented a room in Hanover, and my family would come camp out in my room,” he said. For 12 years, Ericson spent the week in Hanover, and drove 12 hours to West Virginia each weekend.

Engineering professor Ron Lasky resides in Medway, Mass., and drives 157 miles to Hanover from his home. When away from home, Lasky has stayed in the Hanover Inn and White River Junction’s Hampton Inn and says that the reasonable prices they offer to professors have allowed him to lodge comfortably.

When professors commute long distances, circumstances can arise unexpectedly to disrupt travel plans. Accidents, traffic delays and weather conditions can all complicate the commute.

Religion professor Nicola Denzey splits her time living in both Topsham, Maine and Cambridge, Mass., where she also teaches at Harvard.

“I don’t have a lot of cushion time if something goes wrong, so I have to be very organized and hope that nothing calamitous happens. I can’t afford to lose even 15 minutes,” she said.

In spite of all precautions commuting professors may take, accidents sometimes happen.

“I’ve had three accidents,” said history professor Ronald Edsforth, who commutes from Greenwich, N.Y. “I hit a deer once, twice I went off the road in ice storms. On very few occasions, I just decided I couldn’t make it here because of bad winter weather.”

Ericson also reported a hair-raising encounter involving a deer.

“One of the most scary things was four or five years ago taking off in a propeller plane, and they were doing some construction work,” Ericson said. “A deer had come into the runway and they hit the deer. I was sitting right there, and I saw the propeller break off.”

Long commutes, especially when they require professors to divide their week between home and Dartmouth, often result in professors having less time to devote to their families and their personal lives. When asked about the inconveniences of traveling long distances to work, family time seems to be the largest concern among professors.

“I’m away from my family three days out of seven,” said Lasky. “It’s tiring.”

Time on the road, however, is not always time lost.

“The drive is actually beautiful,” Edsforth said. “There’s a certain sameness to it that’s gotten tiresome, but it’s also a time to relax, listen to jazz music or one of the public radio shows.”

Despite their busy schedules, Dartmouth’s commuting professors are dedicated to supporting and interacting with their students through office hours and outside meetings. Lasky said he tries to take his students to lunch every term so that he can get to know them better. Denzey manages to keep in close contact with her students through e-mail. She said that she relies on e-mail more than other people since she does not have a flexible schedule.

“The way I look at it is that professors who commute have an even stronger commitment to the College because they’re willing to leave their families for hours a day to be there for students,” she said.

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