NU prof to retire after four decades

Janette Neuwahl

A bright yellow piece of paper taped across political science Prof. Kenneth Janda’s door says he’s “going out of business after 41 years.”

Retiring after more than four decades at Northwestern, Janda is leaving behind hundreds of former students immersed in the “business” of politics – including some who have gone on to careers in higher education and even to the House of Representatives.

Janda, who has served as chairman of the political science department twice, concentrates his teaching in American government, the study of political parties and the monitoring of elections, in addition to his favorite subject: statistics for political research.

Janda even calculated the data about the statistics course – he’s taught it 35 times to 2,071 students.

“Students know virtually nothing about the subject beforehand and at the end, you can justifiably say they learned from your class,” Janda said. “They’re able to analyze things and if you know something about analysis, it can serve you in a variety of ways.”

Former student Joe Goode, Weinberg ’84, said Janda’s rapport with his students has made him a particularly effective mentor. Goode is now executive director at a democratic polling firm in Washington, where he uses knowledge gained from Janda’s statistics class daily.

“A lot of professors at Northwestern teach the class and go away but he was always available after class,” said Goode. “His door was always open and Northwestern needs more people like him.”

But Janda’s resume covers more than just teaching. In graduate school he began using computers for quantitative analysis of political events, which led him to write his first book, “Data Processing: Applications to Political Research.”

Janda came to NU in 1961 with a foundation in computer-assisted political research from Indiana University and soon after began his interaction with the U.S. government by writing a proposal in 1965 to develop a computer system for Congress.

Working with the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, Janda outlined a way for Congress to improve legislative efficiency, using computers and therefore competing more effectively with the White House.

“Computers made Congress a more powerful branch because they are able to deal with information more adequately,” Janda said. “At the time I began writing about this, they only used computers for payroll.”

Janda’s interest in computers did not end in the 1960s. He soon appeared on a Macintosh advertisement – his computer preference – and later became director of NU’s computing center.

“Computers stimulate students to do creative research on their own,” he said. “Once you show them how to use computers for analysis, they have a very powerful tool.”

Janda said that he will not miss lecturing in classes once he leaves NU. Instead, he said he will miss forming relationships with individual students as they work on their own research.

Graduate student Brandon Rottinghaus said Janda’s vast knowledge of resources is one of his most valuable teaching tools.

“Just by being around he’s able to impart his experience to you and you can go off and find your own way,” said Rottinghaus, a third-year graduate student. “He is going to know where to go first.”

Janda has showcased his knowledge of political resources in ten published books, including a textbook he co-authored with fellow NU political science Prof. Jerry Goldman and Prof. Jeffrey Berry of Tufts University. The collaborated textbook, “The Challenge of Democracy,” now has been translated into six languages and is in its seventh edition since publication.

Goldman, who has worked with Janda for 27 years, said that though Janda’s talents are concentrated in political science, he is also a keen photographer and a skilled craftsman. Janda even created a display case for the department’s work in Scott Hall.

“However, what he does runs so deep and so wide that it could never be encapsulated or displayed in such a fashion as (only) a display case,” Goldman said.

Goldman said Janda’s retirement will mean a void in the department.

“He has taught so many students and given them such lasting intellectual skills that I’m prepared to wager he’s transformed two generations of students at Northwestern who were lucky to pass under his wing,” Goldman said. “What Professor Janda has done here is so extraordinary that it’ll be a long time until someone with that commitment passes our way again.”