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Professors are willing to go the distance

September 26th, 2013

While members of the John Carroll University community frequently cross paths with students hailing from different parts of the country, or even the world, it is a bit unusual to encounter a professor who commutes to JCU from another state. In fact, several professors and faculty members commute over 50 miles to campus each day.

Christina Rawls, an adjunct professor of philosophy who began teaching at JCU this year, commutes over 130 miles from north Pittsburgh to teach her Tuesday and Thursday classes. She leaves home between 11 a.m. and noon to arrive in time for her office hours. Although office hours are not required for part-time faculty, she feels that they are an important component to her classes. After another two-hour commute at the end of the day, she arrives home around 8 or 9 p.m.

Rawls said she doesn’t mind spending long hours in the car during her commute.

“I actually take it as an opportunity to relax from my home life or my dissertation work, and I get to listen to new music and lectures online,” she said. “There’s a source called Open Culture, and they have tons of free lectures in every subject area you can imagine, and also all of these books, novels and philosophy texts: so I can listen to that. I make phone calls if I have to. I have my headset. The time is not an issue for me, but I like to drive.”

Rawls, who took time off to write her dissertation, missed teaching. She decided to call the University over the summer to inquire about open positions, and they happened to have an opening in the philosophy department.

“Now that I’ve been here, this is the part that I’m so excited about: it’s an incredible philosophy department, and it’s an incredible University,” she said.

Although Rawls says she feels lucky to be a part of JCU’s philosophy department, she feels it is unfair that adjunct professors at most universities do not earn a living wage and therefore have no benefits or job security.

“I really am commuting because I love to teach, and because John Carroll is a good university and has a good program, but not because of the money,” said Rawls. “John Carroll pays fairly on the higher level of the bracket, but it’s still not a living wage.”

Paige Webb, a graduate assistant in the English department, teaches first-year composition two days a week and commutes from Columbus, Ohio. The drive varies from two to two-and-a-half hours, and she is less upbeat about her commute than Rawls.

“It’s terrible,” she said. “I hate it. Basically, I live in two cities, and my life is divided between those two spaces and so I never really feel like I’m settled in either space.”

Webb drives up on Monday nights and stays with a friend who lives in Cleveland in order to teach her Tuesday and Thursday classes. She makes the commute because she did not want to put her son, who lives in Columbus, in a different school district for two years. As a graduate student, Webb is completing her final year of making the long commute.

Patrick Hicks, a military professor who became a part of the ROTC program at JCU at the end of August, commutes about 50 miles from Canton, Ohio five days a week.

“Right now, I’m actually in charge of the classroom instruction for the sophomore class, so since we have a number of partnership programs like Case Western and Cleveland State that also contribute cadets to our program, in an effort to kind of meet them in the middle, we teach classes at their campuses too,” he said. “So I teach the same block of instruction three times a week.”

In addition to instructing class, Hicks also supervises the cadets’ physical training  in the morning on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He leaves home at about 5 a.m. to make it to campus at 6 a.m.

To Hicks, commuting is just a part of his job that he accepts.

“My wife, son and I have stayed in Canton largely because we have our house there, we’re already established with a friend network and family right around there, and therefore this is a job that I feel really is a great thing for me as an individual. So to drive that distance really is something that I feel like just comes along with the job,” he said.

Hicks passes the time in the car by listening to audio books from the library, lecture series, podcasts and NPR.

Victor Lee, a visiting associate professor of computer science who began his second year of teaching at JCU this semester, commutes 54 miles from Alliance, Ohio, four days a week. The commute takes him about an hour and 20 minutes in the morning, but can take longer on the way home due to traffic.

Lee teaches classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but sometimes drives to campus on Thursday as well.

“Because I have a long commute, my department chair has tried to limit the number of days that I have to teach classes,” he said.

Lee’s wife works in Alliance, where they also own their home. He cited this as the main reason for commuting a long distance.

“Of course, I wish it was shorter,” he said. “I feel very fortunate that I found a job that’s as good a fit for me as John Carroll is that is within driving distance. I really like teaching here, I like the department and I like the students. It’s a fairly ideal position for my interests, so that’s what keeps me coming every day, is that I know I’m going to like what I’m doing.”