Political science greats: Q&A


Wichita State political science professors Kenneth Ciboski and Melvin Kahn debate policy on Feb. 20

Professor Melvin Kahn and Associate Professor Kenneth Ciboski, both of the political science departmen, sat down with the Sunflower recently.

Ciboski has been teaching at Wichita State for 47 years, specializing in the former Soviet Union. Kahn has taught at WSU for 45 years, after for nine at Southern Illinois and Indiana State. His specialty is political parties and interest groups.

Kahn is an avowed Democrat — Ciboski a staunch Republican. Both have watched the U.S. and its political parties change over the years. Both mentored students who went on to achieve impressive political positions — judges, commissioners, members of the legislature – and although they approach the same subject from opposing viewpoints, Kahn and Ciboski are close friends, respectful of the other’s perspectives and accomplishments.

Below is a summary of their remarks about politics in America today:

Q: What was your first introduction to politics?

Ciboski: “I was a young kid when WWII broke out. Franklin Roosevelt was president, and my father always had a radio, and he made sure we always got the news. His younger brother lived across the way from us, and they’d get together and talk about Roosevelt and Churchill. So I grew up on the New Deal. My mother was so strongly confirmed as a Democrat, that when she died in 2000, she was still cursing Herbert Hoover for the Depression. That’s been my political socialization.”

Kahn: “When I was 10, I heard Franklin Roosevelt on the radio, and as effective as both Kennedy and Reagan were as communicators, they were not in the same league as Roosevelt. I had a little paper route that I’d go around and collect on Friday nights. In Miami, only the wealthy had air conditioners and all the windows were open, so wherever I went I would hear Roosevelt’s voice. I became an avid political junkie. So unlike Ken, I was reaffirmed in my Democratic socialization. I don’t try to create miniature replicas of myself in my classes. I let my students know at the outset that I have my own biases. In the case of my own son, he’s a very conservative Republican.”

Q: Who are some of your former students that stand out to you?

Kahn: “For me, an undergraduate student, Jonathon Pyatt, who I plucked out of my freshman class. We actually were co-researchers and were co-authors of a paper that we based on material from the WSU archives … on liability reform for the airline industry, which was very crucial at the time. In the last couple of months, we’ve given papers in Boston and New Orleans and plan to publish it as co-authors. I’ve worked with assistants, but to me that stands out.”

Ciboski: “I’ve had a number of students who have gone on to do great things in all levels of government. Probably my most memorable would be Mark Parkinson, a former governor. I think most recently, Hector Correa, who I helped get admitted to the University of California, Berkeley Law School. Zinnia Kahn was a very good student here, and she’s in the Boston College of Law. Dennis McKinney, who went on to become state treasurer and minority leader of the legislature. Eric Sexton, WSU athletic director, took his first political science course with me, and he liked it so much he ended up teaching American politics before going on to KU to pursue a doctorate in political science. Blake Carpenter, who recently graduated in December, is already the youngest sitting member of the Kansas Legislature.”

Q: What are your thoughts on the recent state elections and low voter turnout?

Kahn: “I think in general we don’t have enough people who read and understand what is going on, and as a result they don’t take an interest. A lot of people don’t realize that what affects them most in their lives are laws and the administration that goes on here in Kansas, and there’s a real ignorance on that. I attribute a lot of it to the fact that there are so many diversions now. The electronic media, for example, gives people snippets without any kind of in-depth understanding.”

Ciboski: “I think also, particularly at the Congressional level, we read a lot about political conflict, which is what politics is about. The American people in general have the idea that congress doesn’t get anything done: that all they do is bicker around; they’re just there. I think that the press plays up this business about conflict because that’s what makes the news, and I think people get tired of that. Let’s put it this way: studies show people don’t want to be involved in politics. They don’t want anything to do with politics. They want to leave it to the elected officials.”