Apparently the commute from East Campus to Science Drive might not be the worst for the Duke community. Each week, faculty members of Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy fly in from different parts of the East Coast to teach their courses.

Mark Stencel, visiting lecturer in the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy, and Phillip Bennett, Eugene C. Patteson professor of the practice of public policy studies and journalism, are among those professors that live in two worlds, spending hours in the air every week so that they can be on campus to teach Duke undergraduates.

“I teach a class once a week, and I usually fly down to Durham from Arlington, Va. and spend two days on campus," Stencel said. "This is my third year doing this."

Stencel is teaching a class this semester that he’s taught twice in the past, on watchdog reporting and politics. Beyond his duties as a professor, he is co-director of the Reporters' Lab on campus, and works with eight student researchers on political fact-checking.

“I work about half the time at Duke, and the rest of my work time is spent consulting for clients in the media business. I work with news organizations on how they are organized, how they do business and their journalism,” he said. 

Bennett explained that his commute schedule has varied each semester, but currently consists of a flight into Durham on Sunday mornings followed by a three-day stay. He teaches the "News as a Moral Battleground" course in the fall and teaches two seminars in the spring, which have varied in topic over his nine years at Duke.

Outside of his role at Duke, Bennett is the special projects editor of the PBS documentary series FRONTLINE, which is based in Boston.

Other professors also make frequent pilgrimages to teach, Bennett said.

“If you get on any of these flights coming to Durham, they are full of people working in the Triangle during the week," he said. "I know especially that there are a lot of people in the medical community who have different appointments and affiliations that lead them to travel a lot.”

Stencel noted that he feels the commute is completely manageable.

“It’s not so bad!” he said. “I usually fly very early in the mornings and very late at night, which can be a little bit exhausting, but I can get up at three or four in the morning here and be in the office in Durham by eight and have my whole work day ahead of me.”

Bennett explained that Duke's policies and the area as a whole make it easy to get into a routine and make the commute manageable.

“I’ve been a journalist my whole life and have spent a lot of time on flights. Air travel in the United States can be sort of a hassle, but actually it works quite well for me,” he said. “[Raleigh-Durham International Airport] is a great airport, and getting in and out is quite easy.”

Both Bennett and Stencel noted that one of the benefits of flying in was simultaneously engaging in journalism and teaching it.

“One of the best things about this arrangement is that I’m working with real news organizations throughout the week and am able to bring everyday present-tense journalism experiences into the classroom,” Stencel said. “In some ways, if I was teaching full-time, I worry that I’d be losing touch with what’s going on in the news business.”

Bennett echoed this sentiment, explaining that although there are some events that he wished he was on campus for, there are also merits to keeping his ties in journalism.

“By being able to continue to make journalism while I’m a professor of the practice of journalism helps enrich my teaching and the class material I’m working on,” he said.

Although he only teaches one day a week, Stencel stays on campus for an extra day to interact with students and student researchers at the Reporters' Lab. The extra day gives him a "ton of time to meet with people," he said.

Bennett has also found a balance between his commitments at the University and otherwise.

“I’m still able to see students, and when I’m off campus, I communicate with them on the phone or via email," he said. "I don’t feel like there’s any less engagement with my students because of the days I’m not on campus."