Prabha Unnithan’s retirement gathering was held April 26 at CSU’s Durrell Center. Current faculty, staff and graduate students were joined by emeritus professors and former graduate students in honoring Dr. Prabha Unnithan and Dr. Shashi Unnithan, his wife. Prabha grew up in Malaysia after his parents migrated there from India. After completing high school in Malaysia, he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in India. He then came to the U.S. and earned his Ph.D in Sociology from the University of Nebraska in 1983. There he met Shashi who was studying chemistry and also had roots in India. Prabha took an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology position at East Texas State University before coming CSU in 1987. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1991 and Professor of Sociology in 1996.
Sociology Chair Pete Taylor offered a glimpse of Prabha’s many professional accomplishments and gratefully acknowledged his 35 years of leadership and service at CSU. “Prabha is one of the leading authorities in the United States and internationally in criminology, criminal justice, and international and comparative criminal justice,” Pete explained. He went on to note Prabha’s many career contributions, including authoring, co-authoring and editing five books, over 80 research articles and 16 other articles as well as many reviews, commentaries and technical reports for U.S. and international criminal justice agencies. Prabha has presented research at many U.S. and international conferences, including 45 presentations as the invited guest speaker, plenary speaker, and moderator for a variety of professional gatherings.
Prabha has been recognized with many honors and awards over the years – most recently in 2022 the Gerhard O. W. Mueller Award for his contributions to research, leadership and service from the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences. In 2019, he received the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) John N. Stern Distinguished Professor award (the college’s highest faculty award) and in 2007 CLA’s Distinction in Advancement Award. In 2017, the Government of India presented Prabha with the Global Initiative for Academic Networks Award. Other honors include the Mid-South Sociological Association’s Distinguished Book Award in 1995 for his SUNY Press co-authored book The Currents of Lethal Violence: An Integrated Model of Suicide and Homicide.
Prabha has served as president both for the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences and the Western Social Science Association. He will soon be editor of the Justice Evaluation Journal, and is past co-editor of The Sociological Quarterly; editor of The Social Science Journal, and editor of the Journal of Criminal Justice Education.
“During his career, Dr. Unnithan has been active in grant-making and consulting activities, representing more than $600,000 in external and individual and joint grants and contracts,” Pete continued. “Prabha is well-known and highly respected within Northern Colorado’s law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies and the State of Colorado for his outreach and engaged work.”
In 1996, Prabha developed and led Sociology’s criminology & criminal justice (CCJ) concentration and taught nearly all of the department’s early undergraduate CCJ courses. He also created Sociology’s successful internship program. Additionally, he has developed and regularly taught core courses in Sociology’s graduate program in social change. Prabha has mentored and advised 18 completed master’s and four Ph.D. degrees, and he is currently advising one M.A. and two Ph.D. students.
“Today’s Sociology department owes a very great deal to Prabha’s service contributions over 35 years,” Pete explained. Prabha served as Interim Chair of Sociology from 2005-2006 and has been on nearly all of Sociology’s standing committees, including many years on Sociology’s Executive Committee. He founded and directed Sociology’s Center for the Study of Crime and Justice. “Significantly, Prabha has contributed experience, insight and leadership for virtually every major department initiative since arriving at CSU,” Pete continued. “Dr. Unnithan has also contributed invaluable support and mentoring to his colleagues, generously sharing his professional experience and solid judgement with junior and tenured faculty and multiple department chairs over many years.” At the college level, Prabha served as Interim Associate Dean of Liberal Arts and on key CLA committees. At the university level, he has served on multiple search committees and as a campus safety advisor.
When Pete invited faculty members to offer remarks, KuoRay Mao described Prabha “in five words” noting his distinction, warmth, support, dedication, grace, role modeling, and vision. Mike Hogan spoke of Prabha’s perseverance during the early years of developing and growing the CCJ concentration, as well as his influence on the discipline near and far. As a former Chair of Sociology, Lou Swanson offered a historical look at Prabha’s many contributions and influence. Jason Downing noted how Prabha’s door remains open even after 35 years.
Current Ph.D. candidate Ian Greenwood has attended several criminology conferences with Prabha and spoke of his impact near and far. Former graduate students were also in attendance: Jeramy Arney (B.A. ’93, M.A. ’00), Professor of Political Science Public Administration at University of Wisconsin/La Crosse; Carla Barela-Bloom (B.A. ’99, M.A. ’05), CSU Academic Success Coordinator for Exploratory Studies; Eric Dowdy (Ph.D. ’17), IT and Data/Systems Manager for the Fort Collins-Loveland Water District and CoFounder/Vice President of Slammin Famine; Catherine Beighey (M.A. ’98), Professor of Sociology at Aims Community College; and RJ Tuttle (B.A. ’15, M.A. ’19), Fort Collins Police Services Officer. These former students expressed deep gratitude for the impact Prabha has had on their lives and careers, and a couple noted that they would not have persevered through their graduate programs had it not been for Prabha’s support and guidance.
Prabha offered remarks of his own that included thanking his wife, children, and everyone at every level of the Department. He also named each of his former graduate students. He noted humble beginnings and that his career was “inconceivable yet conceivable.” In conclusion, Prabha offered a Hindi poem about “a moment or two.”
Prabha was presented with a plaque, and he and Shashi were given a kitchen set by a local artist as a gift from the Department.
Prabha says he will continue to be involved with the Department academically. He has been named Editor of the Justice Evaluation Journal, and his three-year term begins in January of 2024. He is in the process of moving the journal’s logistics to the CSU campus and has, of course, invited his current M.A. student, Cassandra Olivarez, to be the journal manager. As we tracked down alumni to invite them to this gathering, we discovered that RJ Tuttle was recently named 2023 Office of the Year by FCPS. So although Prabha and his many interesting plaques and gavel are departing from Clark’s B-wing, Dr. Unnithan’s impact will continue as the graduate students he has mentored and supported advance in their meaningful careers and as an average of 70 undergraduates arrive on campus each fall to study the criminology and criminal justice program he created.
Thank you, Dr. Unnithan, for everything you’ve done to make our department what it is today!