Quarantine story: Haverford’s quietest genius, Mr. Maley

Jamison Maley in China as a part of Haverford’s 2012 China Trip – courtesy of Mr. Jamison Maley.

Nature is peaceful in the dead of night. No bright sun, no panting joggers or focused cyclists, and not a single colleague’s email or friend’s text dare interrupt the serenity. It’s in this tranquil environment that one might find Mr. Jamison Maley walking, enjoying the same musician who changed his worldview back in college: Gil Scott-Heron. Perhaps on this particular night, he’s listening to some of his other favorites, like Leon Thomas, Fairuz, or Black Sabbath. Or perhaps it’s a different song from among his over 6,000 records, uploaded to his iPod to play during his segment on a local radio station.

     Maybe he’s thinking about his Environmental Ethics and Policy class and how to incorporate his thesis work on China’s ecological and economic future into the classroom; or his Astronomy class, and how to connect the latest discoveries about dark matter, dark energy, and the exploration of the unknown to the unit after stellar death; or his Electronics class, and how he can fit another complex circuit into the information-dense yet fascinating curriculum he’s constructed.

     Maybe he’s pondering life’s mysteries.

     Maybe he’s just living in the moment.

     Mr. Maley works full-time as an upper school science teacher. Until September, he also worked practically full-time on his post-graduate studies when not handling his school-related responsibilities — studies he began in 2010. The avid scientist applied to Penn’s graduate program with an essay on how China’s environmental challenges impact the world, and finished his studies there with a 375-page thesis on the same topic, in which he referred to it as a “wicked problem,” a phrase he borrowed from an entirely different discipline, Social Planning. 

     One might expect that countless hours of research and writing reflecting a deep understanding of between 300-400 sources is the product of a life fully dedicated to the field, but prior to 2010, Maley had little to do with the topic. He considered the problem of China’s CO2 emissions, the multi-sectoral approach needed to adequately handle the issue, and the complexity and depth the subject demanded to be “appealing.”

     Mr. Maley simply wanted to challenge himself.

     But graduate studies are not Mr. Maley’s only activities outside the classroom. He also hosts a radio show every Friday from 4:30 to 6:00 pm on WPEB (88.1 FM or 95.1 FM). His station manager, Ms. Renee McBride-Williams, describes the show Mr. Maley has run for over a decade now as “eclectic.” She then offers the highest possible praise: Maley’s musical knowledge is “on par with” that of her son, Christian McBride, a professional musician who has six Grammys to his name.

     Mr. Maley’s show covers ‘60s and ‘70s era underground artists, and he also helps other shows at the station with their interviews and research. Ms. McBride-Williams details that Mr. Maley can explain the growth of lesser-known music groups throughout the era and how each one impacted the industry. She describes him as “like a teacher on the microphone” in how he explains these connections during his 90-minute segments.

     All of these pursuits mean that until recently, Mr. Maley was simultaneously involved in three different activities that could each be a full-time commitment: teaching, taking graduate-level classes, and running a radio show.

     He attributes this remarkable work ethic to his father, who worked multiple jobs at a time to support himself, his wife, and his son. After his first job went non-union, the resulting pay cut drove him to seek multiple other sources of income — sometimes three at a time — to keep everyone fed and to maintain their home in northeast Philadelphia. 

Young Jamison Maley and his grandfather on the beach – courtesy of Mr. Jamison Maley.

     Mr. Maley describes his childhood neighborhood as “idyllic,” and considers himself lucky to have grown up in such a tight-knit community. While most of his peers would not go to college, the young scholar was enamored by the documentaries he saw on Channel 12. He watched, he read books, and the next thing he knew, he was majoring in Astronomy, and then earning his Masters from Wesleyan in 1999. 

     Today, Mr. Maley’s courses take place virtually, in front of a tapestry depicting ancient astronomers calculating the distances to certain stars using the methods he teaches in his own course. If his students could see the entire room around him, they might be surprised to find that the tapestry, though old-looking, doesn’t look the least bit out-of-place. The chairs, table, cabinets, and other furniture all date back to the Gothic Revival period in the late 1800s — with the exception of the chandelier, he is quick to clarify, which was made in the very early 1900s, the latest stage of that style.

The room Mr. Maley uses during virtual classes. Photo courtesy of Mr. Jamison Maley.

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

William Morris

     In fact, all of the teacher’s furniture is from this period, complete with small gargoyles guarding the doorway and an authentic stained-glass window. Mr. Maley explains that his choice of furniture is his way of keeping the 21st century “at bay” and returning to the more individual-focused mindset of the pre-industrial world, much like the Gothic Revival period itself, which centered on protesting the dehumanization of industrial workers.

     His other reason for the choice, he explains, is reflected in a quote from William Morris, one of his favorite designers of the Victorian period: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” He points out that the 1800s furniture is often cheaper than modern alternatives because people do not want it and it is considered impractical. But as Mr. Maley says, when it comes to architecture and design aesthetics, “as soon as I hear the word ‘impractical,’ I’m interested.”

     Such a characteristic utterance would not surprise his graduate-school friend, Ayalur Krishnan, Ph.D., with whom he is still close. Krishnan explains that they became friends because of Maley’s essential qualities, all of which new students get to discover every year: “He’s very understated, but only when he opens up do you see that mind of his.

     “It’s really something,” Krisnan says. “It’s so scintillating.”

Author: Tucker Wurman '20

Tucker Wurman '20 writes as a part of the journalism seminar. He's a student who has no real specific disciplinary focus, but takes classes across math, science, history, foreign languages, and English in equal measure. That doesn't stop him from being interested in mostly math and computer science for career options, though.