PULLMAN, Wash. — Vishnu Narain Bhatia, recognized as the architect of the Washington State University Honors Program (now Honors College), died Thursday (Jan. 16) in Pullman. He was 78.
Dr. Bhatia, a native of India, was an internationally recognized pioneer in building education opportunities for American students abroad and foreign students in the United States.
The 47-year WSU faculty member was honored and revered for his contributions to higher education and the university, including a knighthood from Denmark in 1990 for his decades-long work building ties between the Scandinavian nation and WSU.
Bhatia was born Aug. 2, 1924, in Lucknow, India, the youngest of seven children.
He came to the United States in 1947 – a rarity at the time –after earning a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy at Banaras Hindu University. He spent his first night in America at the International House at the University of California, Berkeley, and then took a train to the University of Iowa, where he began his doctoral studies.
At Iowa, he met Ursula Dawson, an undergraduate student and daughter of the university’s engineering dean. They married in Bombay in 1951, after Bhatia completed his doctorate in pharmacy. The couple returned to the United States, where he was offered an assistant professorship at WSU.
Bhatia, known to a generation in Pullman as “Vic,” was on the faculty of the College of Pharmacy for 41 years, but made his greatest impact in leading the Honors Program as its director for more than 28 years, from 1964 to 1993. He defined the program as preparing students to become “active and thoughtful citizens, capable of assuming leadership roles in their professions and communities.” Under his leadership, WSU’s Honors Program won national praise, including an article in the New York Times. Admission to the program was by invitation only and usually drew about 600 students with high school grade point averages of 3.8 or better, who took an honors curriculum in addition to their major. “He is a remarkable, gifted and caring man who has personally influenced a generation of WSU Honors undergraduates,” said a former student.
He also served as WSU’s International Education director from 1973-1990, which led him to travel the world on behalf of WSU, setting up exchange programs (eventually to number more than 30) and negotiating opportunities to spread the university’s expertise worldwide. He developed a particular fondness and expertise for Denmark — which included learning Danish — that led to a steady flow back and forth of students between the two nations. His travels for WSU took him all over Europe, to China and Japan, to South America and the Middle East, and allowed him to stay close to his family in India.
He was a special assistant to WSU President Samuel H. Smith from 1991-98, serving in a variety of capacities, which included helping to build alumni connections with overseas graduates of WSU.
His list of professional activities and consultant work for other university honors programs and international education efforts is extensive. He was president of the National Collegiate Honors Council in the late ‘60s and served on its executive committee until 1983. He served 17 years on the executive committee of the Association of International Education Administrators. He was editor of the national Forum for Honors for nine years and the International Education Forum for 12. He published more than 70 research and other publications during his career, including numerous pharmaceutical research studies early in his career as a doctoral student and in Pullman, and was the recipient of 18 research grants from various sources. He served on more than 20 university committees.
Bhatia is remembered at WSU through the annual V.N. Bhatia Lecture on Excellence In Education, a 10-year-old endowed lecture series that annually brings a major speaker to Pullman.
He is survived by Ursula, his wife of 51 years at their Pullman home, and their two children, a son, Peter, of Portland, Ore., and daughter, Robin, of Spokane.
A memorial gathering will be held at a date to be determined. The family asks remembrances b sent to the V.N. Bhatia Lectureship Fund, Washington State University, P.O. Box 642012, Pullman, WA 99164-2012.
For more information about Dr. Bhatia, go to a special Web site: www.saja.org/vnbhatia.html.