A tale of two cities

For many professors, working at Yale requires quite a trek.
For many professors, working at Yale requires quite a trek. Photo by Sarah Strong.

When Daniel Magaziner wakes up in his Brooklyn apartment, he hopes it is not raining. An assistant professor in the History Department, Magaziner faces a two-and-a-half-hour commute to his office in the Hall of Graduate Studies every Tuesday and Thursday. When it rains, Magaziner said, he cannot use his bike to get to the subway, which adds another half an hour to the trip.

On sunny days, Magaziner leaves by 7:40 a.m. and bikes for five minutes to the Nevins Street subway stop, where he locks his bike before the 25-minute ride to Grand Central Station. He boards the 8:34 a.m. Metro North train, and always sits in the same spot: the window seat of the second three-seater row on the right through the second door of the last car. At 10:36 a.m., the train pulls into the New Haven State Street stop, and Magaziner walks from there to his office.

“I get a lot of exercise,” he said, laughing.

While the majority of Yale’s faculty live in the New Haven area, Magaziner is one of at least 25 Yale professors who commute from New York to teach. Some only travel for the day, while others split their nights between the two cities — all overcoming the physical distance to support students as if they lived just blocks away.

FILLING OBLIGATIONS

Yale has no policy stipulating where professors must live. The Yale Faculty Handbook requires that full-time faculty spend “most days of the work week” on campus to fulfill all duties required of all faculty members, such as advising students and attending departmental meetings.

Anthony Smith, director of undergraduate studies in economics, said his department does not take where professors live into account during the hiring process.

Instead, Smith said his goal is to ensure the best professors are recruited to give undergraduates the best education possible.

“If they want to live in New York, or if they want to live in Branford, it doesn’t really matter,” Smith said. “We figure they’ll be able to meet their responsibilities; how they do it is up to them.”

Professors who commute said they make a point to be as available as possible. Magaziner said he spends 16 to 20 hours a week in his office in order to be available to students. English professor David Kastan, who commutes from Morningside Heights, said he tries to meet with each of his students for coffee or a beer at least once during the semester. College seminar lecturer Thomas Herman ’68 arrives a few hours before his first class to meet with students. If a large number of students request conferences, he comes the day before.

Herman and journalism teacher Steven Brill ’72 LAW ’75, who also travels from New York, said that their primary careers in New York also give them the opportunity to spend one or two classes per semester visiting newsrooms in New York City.

Carolyn Brown ’13, who took Herman’s “Press, Business, and the Economy” course, called the trips to New York “applicable and career-altering” because they provided insight into a city to which she had little exposure.

English professor Anne Fadiman commutes to New Haven from Pioneer Valley, Mass., taking the train down Thursday mornings and staying for one night. She maximizes her time by allowing individual students to walk with her to the train station.

“Those are my office hours,” Fadiman said, explaining that she usually reserves that time to talk with former students, while current students generally meet with her on campus.

Fadiman stays in the guest suite in Branford College on Thursday nights, so she said she has met with students until 11 p.m.

“I can grab a roll or cup of soup from Au Bon Pain and run back to my office to have two more conferences after dinner,” Fadiman said.

THE COMMUTE

Professors interviewed provided a variety of reasons for why they chose to accept jobs in New Haven without moving permanently from their homes in New York City. Some have spouses who hold jobs in New York, some have children enrolled in New York City schools, and some simply prefer the bigger city.

Their commutes, while sometimes arduous, can be productive and enjoyable. Many said living so far from campus means they spend their time at Yale more efficiently.

Magaziner said he views his commute as an opportunity to work. His rules for the hour-and-45-minute train ride include no conversations on the phone or with other commuters. Instead Magaziner, who has two young children, said he likes to put on headphones while on the train and get work done without interruption.

Economics DUS Smith added that recruiting professors who live in New York City can be difficult, given the competition from schools like Columbia University and New York University. For potential hires from anywhere else, he considers New Haven’s proximity to New York a “selling point.”

Magaziner said he hopes to sustain the commute as long as possible, but did not believe such travel would be possible if he were a science professor who needed to spend more time on campus in labs.

“You’ll find most people who commute are part of humanities or social sciences who don’t have to be in a place touching something to be [doing] work,” Magaziner said.

Assistant mathematics professor Alex Kontorovich, who also takes the train from Grand Central to New Haven because his wife works in New York, said he does not know of any other math professors at Yale who commute between the two cities.

Though Kontorovich hopes to move closer to Yale soon, he and Magaziner had similar schedules last year, so they formed a friendship based on their walks between campus and the station.

“On the train, [Magaziner and I] will say hey, and we sit, and we do our work,” Kontorovich said. “If you’re riding with people, you’re talking with them, you’re not working, and the train time is golden work time.”

Kastan also takes the train occasionally, but usually he chooses to drive on Tuesday mornings from his Morningside Heights apartment to his apartment near campus in New Haven, where he stays until Friday or Saturday. He called the commute by car “seductively simple,” adding that walking outside and jumping in the car is easier than walking to the Harlem train station, especially since he’s usually carrying a load of books.

Kastan said he enjoys his early-morning rides with coffee and music on the radio.

“I see a lot of birds — red-tailed hawks, occasionally wild turkeys on the side of the road. It’s all very exciting,” he said.

He enjoys the split-city lifestyle, he added, because there are more good restaurants within walking distance of his New Haven apartment and “it is much, much easier to go to the movies here than in NYC.”

Correction: Sept. 24

A previous version of this article contained several errors. The article misstated the time that history professor Daniel Magaziner arrives in his office. The article also stated incorrectly that English professor Anne Fadiman commutes to New Haven on Wednesday mornings; in fact, she arrives on Thursdays and stays on campus Thursday night. Finally, the article stated incorrectly that a majority of Yale’s faculty live on campus. In fact, a majority live in New Haven and the surrounding area.

Comments

  • phantomllama

    “At 10:36 a.m., the train pulls into the New Haven State Street stop, and Magaziner walks from there to his office, arriving by 9:30 a.m.”

    I didn’t know that Yale had invented time travel.

  • highandelm

    anne fadiman comes in on wednesdays, stays for one night, and yet sleeps in the branford guest suite on thursday nights?

  • JackNH

    An assistant professor who comes to work for only part of two days a week must not be counting on a future at Yale.

  • ysm

    “While the majority of Yale’s faculty live on campus…” on campus?? or in new haven and/or the surrounding area?

  • ClassOf2010

    What a joke and a waste of money that Yale allows its professors to only work for two days a week. I remember when I was writing my senior thesis, my adviser (in the History department) was really hard to meet with because she only set aside one hour a week for meeting with students, and I had another class during that hour. She was completely inflexible about meeting with me on any other day, and I got virtually no “advising” on my thesis as a result (other than a few email exchanges).

    Yale absolutely doesn’t care about its students. I doubt any other university would be OK with its professors living two hours away and only working two days a week. If my parents had seen this article six years ago, they would never have agreed to send me to Yale.

    • FreddyHoneychurch

      Yale professors rarely teach more than two classes per semester, so from the blinkered undergraduate’s point of view it may seem they only “work” two days a week. But there’s hardly a prof. on campus who isn’t working 80-hour weeks. Books can be written in places other than New Haven. Most professors are so utterly consumed by their subject that there’s really no division between working and not working. Teaching undergrads is just one part of what academics do.

      Yale tries to hire the best available scholars and these people often are the best teachers available, but not always. The same can be said for all of the top colleges and universities in the US, and even for those that sell themselves as especially committed to undergraduate teaching. Many of their professors also live outside the city limits.

      As for your thesis adviser: that’s too bad. Yale faculty are generally surprised how infrequently undergrads show up at office hours (grad students, however, require constant attention!).

    • btcl

      This post is ridiculous. I’ve had professors on all sides of the spectrum when it comes to being available for students. Maybe this professor was an extreme, but please don’t project that onto the truly really wonderful teachers here.

    • ldffly

      I am very surprised that this instructor wasn’t disciplined by the department. Years ago, I saw this sort of nonsense at other universities, but not Yale.