NU Professor William Kay leaves legacy as passionate academic, caring professor


Associate Professor of Political Science William Kay poses for a portrait in 2013. Kay studied public policy and administration, organization theory and science and technology policy. photo by brooks canaday

Katy Manning, news staff

The Northeastern community lost a long-term member of the political science faculty to stage 4 cancer Jan. 28. A professor at Northeastern since the late 1980s, William “Woody” Kay, is remembered by his students and colleagues as someone who genuinely loved to teach. 

Kay began his education studying economics and political science at Rice University, graduating in 1976. He started teaching at Northeastern shortly after completing his doctorate in political science at Indiana University in 1987. In the last years of his career, he taught courses like Science, Technology, and Public Policy, as well as his popular Politics and Film course. 

Christopher Bosso, a professor of public policy alongside Kay in the political science department, worked with Kay for over 30 years. He explained Kay had a “wide range” of academic interests.

“His expertise was in organization theory and science and technology policy, as mine was, so we had a lot of similar interests,” Bosso said. “He was far more into it, he was really techy. This was the guy who had Star Trek posters in his office. In the last years of his life, he actually wanted to finish a book about the politics of Star Trek. But he also took great interest in film and taught a popular class about politics and film. As a colleague, I would basically try to tap his brain for insight into these different dynamics.”

Kay and Bosso worked together on projects relating to science policy, including a paper about nanotechnology. In his career, Kay also published two books about the politics of the U.S. Space Program and NASA

“He was so smart and well-read,” Bosso said. “He had the ability to put ideas together in really interesting ways.”

During his time at Northeastern, Kay also spent a year lecturing on political science at the University of Iceland through the U.S. Fulbright Scholar Program in 1992. 

Another one of Kay’s colleagues, political science professor and department chair Costas Panagopoulos, looked back on Kay’s joyful personality.

“My impression is that his relationships with students and colleagues alike were bright spots for everyone involved,” Panagopoulos said. “One student recently described him as a ray of sunshine, and that very much captures his essence in my view.”

For all those who interacted with Kay in the classroom or at his office in the Renaissance Park building, his love of teaching was apparent. 

“He could spend hours with his students in his office talking,” Bosso said. “He always had time for his students or really anyone who poked their head into his door. He loved being here at the university.”

Described by Panagopoulos as an “exemplary faculty member,” Kay was a professor who spent time and effort on each one of his students.

“As far as Northeastern’s reputation for keeping our students at the center of everything we do, Professor Kay was a great example of that,” Panagopoulos said.

Second-year political science and history combined major Jesse Fusco was in Kay’s Public Policy and Administration course during the Fall 2022 semester, his final semester of teaching. Fusco said even though Kay was undergoing medical treatments for his cancer, he was always upbeat during class. 

“He really seemed to enjoy teaching, he loved to tell jokes,” Fusco said. “His teaching style was a lot like he was just having a conversation with students, which I enjoyed.”

Bosso also remarked on Kay’s sense of humor, explaining his unconventional way of offering students a chance to improve their grades.

“He would give students bonus points on assignments if they could tell a really good joke,” Bosso said. “He would always stop by my office and tell me the latest jokes.” 

Kay is survived by his wife and children, who were an integral part of his life.

“I think that [Kay would] want to be remembered as a good teacher, a great colleague, and a real family man,” Bosso said.

Both Fusco and Bosso noted Kay’s excitement about life, even throughout his illness. Kay had planned to teach during the Spring 2023 semester, and had been preparing for his courses during the last weeks of his life.

“Overall I think he was just a positive person and even though he was sick, people will just remember that he was a joyful person who so clearly loved what he was doing,” Fusco said. “I’m glad that he could finish his life doing what he loved.”