This academic year is an historic one at Hampton University because Dr. William R. Harvey will be presenting diplomas to the graduates for the final time.
Harvey will retire in June 2022 with 44 years on the job, making him the second longest serving college president in the United States. Xavier University Louisiana President Emertius Dr. Norman Francis served 47 years.
When Harvey walked onto the campus in 1978 of what was then called Hampton Institute to take over the reins as president, he, was just 37 years old. He and his wife, Norma, had two small children and Jimmy Carter was president.
Now, the couple have three grown children and five grandchildren. And the campus he stepped foot on is not the same one he is leaving. To begin with, the Alabama native took over a college in debt.
“There was red all over the books,” he said. An issue Harvey would not tolerate because he sticks what his school teacher mother taught him about money, “You can’t spend $1.25 if you only have $1.” As a result, during his tenure the budget has been balanced every year.
Endowments to the college have grown steadily from $29 million in 1987 to $360 million in 2020 under his leadership. When Harvey took over, scholarships totaled less than half million dollars. Now scholarships are $30.5 million.
The Harveys have contributed to Hampton University, giving $8.5 million during the four decades.
Beyond improved financial performance, 92 academic programs that range from chemical engineering to Bible studies have been established. There were nine new doctoral programs established.
The campus grew as well, with 29 buildings and the creation of Legacy Park that was unveiled in 2019. The waterfront park has 13 sculptures of people who contributed to education. They range from the university’s founder Samuel Chapman Armstrong to long-time university photographer Reuben Burrell.
Innovative medical treatment and research have grown. In late 2010, Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute opened its doors. The largest, free standing proton therapy cancer treatment facility in the world, has treated more than 3,000 patients including children. It treats breast, lung, prostate, head and neck, ocular, gastrointestinal, brain, spine and pediatric cancers. Harvey said he became interested in proton therapy when the subject was brought up to him in several conversations with different people over a short time.
The Hampton University Cancer Research Center received a large grant from the National Institutes of Health to focus on breast cancer in African American women.
Taking advantage of their neighbor NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton University has 100 percent control of a NASA mission. The college currently has four satellites/instruments in orbit.
While Harvey has led, he has also felt it important to develop leaders. He developed the Williams R. Harvey Leadership Institute. Within the institute is the Executive Leadership Summit. The summit brings together leaders who engage with attendees giving them first-hand knowledge on how to handle high-level leadership roles. There have been 10 participants who are now college presidents.
What Harvey plans to do in his retirement is write another book about student success in college. He has written three, including one on leadership. This is a passion he has not had the time he would like to pursue.
When asked if he would be tempted to come back to campus and tell the new president how to manage, he shakes his head no.
“I took a one-year sabbatical after I was here for 25 years. My wife and I have a house in Hilton Head, S.C., and I only came back one time when the acting president asked me to help with an issue,” he said.