LSU Community Mourns the Passing of Chancellor Emeritus James H. Wharton

LSU Chemistry | May 26, 2021


Dr. James Wharton

BATON ROUGE, LA- Louisiana State University Chancellor Emeritus James H. Wharton passed away on Saturday, May 22, 2021, at the age of 83. Wharton was a valued community member and leader of LSU, contributing to the improvements of faculty, academic standards, and fundraising programs. 

“Dr. James Wharton was the consummate leader.  As Chancellor, he skillfully led the university during a critical period of time. He was instrumental in establishing the West and Taylor Chairs, both of which now reside in the Department of Chemistry," said Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and Boyd Professor Isiah Warner. "As Chancellor Emeritus, he contributed greatly to our department through advice to faculty and setting high standards for great teaching. He was a great mentor to me after I joined the department, particularly during my time as Chair.”

Born in Mangum, Oklahoma, in 1937, Wharton attended Northeast Louisiana State College—now the University of Louisiana at Monroe—, where he received a football scholarship. Wharton earned his Bachelor of Science in 1959 and then pursued his doctorate in physical chemistry at LSU. 

Wharton joined the research group of Professor R. V. Nauman and examined the energy states of various fluoranthene substituted molecules through spectroscopic methods. He investigated the differences in emission and excitation spectra in comparison to the individual components that they were derived from, i.e. naphthalene and benzene, and their interactions.

While at LSU, Wharton received two National Science Foundation Fellowships, a summer fellowship in 1960 and a graduate research fellowship from 1961 to 1962. In July of 1962, Wharton successfully defended his doctoral dissertation titled, "Interpretations of the Electronic Energy States in Fluoranthene and Related Molecules."   

Following graduation and a brief assistant professor appointment at LSU, Wharton served in the United States Army Ordnance Corps from 1963 to1965. He was assigned to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama to work on NASA's Saturn V Moon landing program during his service. 

In 1965, at the request of Dean A. R. Choppin, Wharton returned to LSU as an assistant professor of chemistry. He was soon promoted to associate dean of the College of Chemistry and Physics in 1968. Wharton also held numerous other administrative positions at LSU, including dean of Junior Division, dean of General College, and interim chancellor at LSU Alexandria. From 1981 until 1989, Wharton served as chancellor of LSU. 

Under his leadership, Wharton enhanced the national image of LSU through significant improvements to the faculty, academic standards, fundraising programs, and research efforts. In 1983, Wharton pushed to create the Louisiana Endowment Trust Fund for Eminent Scholars, a support program for faculty chairs and professorships. In 1988, Wharton implemented student admissions standards that improved graduation rates from 33 percent to 47 percent.  

With a strong commitment to research and technology, research grants from state, federal, and private sources increased dramatically during his term as chancellor. In 1987, LSU was designated as a Carnegie I Research University, the highest advanced-research ranking given by the Carnegie Foundation. Wharton also helped bring the Laser Interferometer Gravitational –Wave Observatory (LIGO) to Livingston Parish and created the first Office of Technology Transfer at any Louisiana university. 

After an eight-year tenure as chancellor, Wharton returned to the chemistry classroom, connecting with students and serving as a role model for effective teaching. His interactive teaching strategies and rapport with students created a positive classroom dynamic in which students often performed better on exams. 

"One of his first assignments was in the physical chemistry course, and his preparation included working through all the sample problems in the textbook. I can't imagine that he had even looked at a physical chemistry textbook during all the years that he devoted to administrative accomplishments. His memory was prodigious," said Professor Emeritus Frank Cartledge, the Department Chair of LSU Chemistry during Wharton's return. "Not only did his sections of General Chemistry regularly outperform the other sections on the common final exam, but his students loved him, as shown in his student teaching evaluations."

Wharton taught general chemistry to thousands of LSU undergraduate students until 2008, when he officially retired from LSU. Following his retirement, he continued volunteer service to the state and university as a highly regarded higher education expert. He was named an LSU Alumni Association Alumnus of the Year and inducted into the LSU College of Science Hall of Distinction.  

For over a half of a century, Chancellor Emeritus James Wharton led ambitious institutional growth in research, academic success, and fundraising efforts through periods of great challenge. His commitment to excellence as a higher education administrator, professor, mentor, and community member paved a path to success for students and LSU. 

Learn more about the life and legacy of Chancellor Emeritus James Wharton > obituary 




Media Contact:
Gretchen Schneider
LSU Chemistry