Former Gov. Mark Parkinson grows closer to WSU with honorary doctorate

Stacy and Mark Parkinson

Courtesy, WSU Foundation

Stacy and Mark Parkinson

Former Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson has been close with Wichita State University for as long as he can remember. 

“I grew up in Wichita, and among my first memories of life are being five or six years old and listening to Wichita State basketball games on the radio,” Parkinson told The Sunflower. 

But Parkinson’s relationship with the university was strengthened even further this month, after the Kansas Board of Regents approved an honorary doctorate degree for the Shocker alumnus. 

“It’s very meaningful to me to be recognized by your alma mater and a school that I’ve had a lifelong relationship with,” Parkinson said. 

A graduate of Wichita Heights High School, Parkinson earned summa cum laude honors with his bachelor’s degree in political science from WSU in 1980. He later graduated from the University of Kansas School of Law. 

Parkinson said most of his fondest memories at WSU come from his three years in the debate program. 

“Wichita State has a long history of success in debate that goes back to winning the national championship [in 1968],” he said. “I had two debate partners that I’m still good friends with.”

Those friends are Kansas State Rep. John Carmichael of Wichita and Brian Hufford, a Yale Law School graduate who Parkinson said runs a “remarkably successful” law practice in New York City. 

“To have the opportunity to hang around people like that, travel around the country, debate the topics we debated — it was a gift that I cherish,” Parkinson said.

Parkinson made it a point to return the gift to the debate program after graduating. 

While he was still governor in 2011, he announced that he would fund a scholarship for the WSU debate team. Each year, the scholarship covers tuition and fees for a resident student in debate. 

In order to qualify for the scholarship, students must be on WSU’s debate team, have at least one year of debate experience in high school, and maintain a 3.0 grade-point average. 

Early ambition

When he was a sophomore at WSU, Parkinson made the bold decision to take the 1978 spring semester off to mount a primary challenge to 12-year incumbent State Rep. Ben Foster. 

Parkinson came within 36 votes of making it to the general election, but he said the loss was a necessary learning experience.

“In hindsight, I’m very fortunate that I didn’t win that race,” Parkinson said. “I wasn’t ready to be in the legislature. I hadn’t really formed my career or my life . . . and the voters were smart enough not to send me to Topeka.” 

After serving terms in both Kansas congressional chambers, Parkinson was elected the 47th lieutenant governor of Kansas in 2007. He succeeded then-Gov. Kathleen Sebellius after she was tapped in 2009 for an Obama cabinet position. 

He did not run for reelection, as he was soon selected as CEO of the American Health Care Association (AHCA), a position he still holds. 

In February, Parkinson and his wife Stacy unveiled a new scholarship for students covered by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The $200,000 donation provides $34,000 over four years to two eligible students each year.

Parkinson will be honored at a fall 2019 commencement ceremony, where he will be the main speaker. 

“I’m super excited about what’s happening at Wichita State, and I really appreciate the direction that President Bardo sent the campus,” Parkinson said. “From somebody who’s been involved with Wichita State for over 60 years, it’s changed tremendously.”