42 years of passion and excellence

Nicholas Mukhar and Nicholas Mukhar

Professor John Kay sits in his office on a Monday morning shortly after teaching his Political Science 101 class. Glasses in hand, he takes a long pause, gazes at the paper-piled desk in front of him, crosses his legs as he leans back in his chair, and ponders even longer the question just posed.

One would wonder why it’s taking a person with a two-page, life-long resume as impeccable as his blue striped shirt and khaki-colored corduroys this long to answer the question: what is something about yourself others don’t know?

The man has traveled to Japan, China, Vietnam, and England. He has served in the military, met Indira Gandhi, earned a Bachelor’s Degree, Master’s Degree, and Ph.D from University of California Santa Barbara in political science, and has taught at City College for 42 years. Now a question like this has him sitting in silence after his arms were flailing and voice rising with every word about Plato and Aristotle being the fathers of political science just minutes prior. Doctor Kay is not baffled, but instead doing what he has preached to over 30,000 students during his teaching career: thinking.

Thinking is what makes John Kay and the recent recipient of the Hayward Award for Excellence in Education.

“There is no substitute for thought,” said the Rhode Island-born Kay in an essay he wrote in acceptance of the award. “Each student deserves an opportunity to acquire knowledge in a disciplined way and to become an independent thinker.”

The award is statewide and is the top honor for faculty members of California community colleges. It recognizes professors for their commitment to their students, school and profession.

“John embodies all the characteristics of an ideal faculty member,” said Dr. Jack Friedlander, vice president of educational programs.

“I have often sought John’s advice on academic and governance related issues.”

Kay has been married since 1962 to his wife, Edith, and has two daughters, Helen and Mary. Born to Scottish parents, he considers himself “a lengthened shadow of my own childhood.

“My parents were loving,” he said. “But they did not show it in emotional ways. I learned from them to apply thought rather than just emotion.”

For more than four decades, Professor Kay has raced around the front stages of lecture halls and classrooms around campus, his white hair swaying in the breeze of his rapid footsteps as he applies thought to his lectures on Alexis De Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” different voting methods, and the history of political parties.

Just as a performer engages his audience while on stage, Kay has captured the attention of students who would rather be mixing chemicals in a chemistry lab or painting still life in an art class.

“I am taking political science because it’s a prerequisite,” said second-year computer science major Christopher Brooks. “He’s so animated and vivacious it’s cool,” said Brooks. “He’s good about teaching people what’s goin’ on now in the world.”

Dr. Kay has done more than just make the class bearable for students uninterested in the political field. First-year student Jeff Allen has now decided to study political science.

“I came to City College not knowing what I wanted to do. I was always interested in politics, but after taking Dr. Kay’s class I really decided that this is what I want to study,” Allen said.

“The most rewarding part of teaching is making students realize the importance of something beyond themselves,” said Kay.

In addition to teaching at City College, Kay has led study abroad trips five times for a total of two and a half years.

He was president of the Academic Senate and is currently political science department chair.

He is the only faculty member in City College’s history who has been president of the faculty senate, faculty union and chief negotiator.

Kay has also been an active political member in the community and is being acknowledged for his work at City College and the City of Santa Barbara.

“I feel a very high honor from this award because I was selected by my peers.”