By Reginald Stuart

Hampton University, one of the nation’s first historically black institutions, was a small struggling four-year college on the Virginia banks of the Chesapeake Bay when an ambitious, young, Alabama man, Dr. William Harvey, Jr. from Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, was chosen to be president of the school, originally known a Hampton Institute. 

Dr. William Harvey, Jr.

The 1978 gamble on Dr. Harvey, a relative newcomer to higher education administration, became a winner, winner, winner, for the son of a building construction contractor and civil rights activist in tiny Brewton, a small rural town between Mobile and Montgomery. 

Dr. Harvey, who spent two nurturing years at Fisk University under the guidance of then-president, the late James Lawson from 1970 to 1972, is set to retire at the end of June. He has served as a four-year college president at the same institution far longer than most peer presidents across the country.

Along the way, the fiscally conservative academician has weathered the pandemic, political upheaval in Washington, Virginia and has managed to amass a $400 million university endowment ensuring the future of the institution, not to mention graduating thousands of students. Dr. Harvey served in the Fisk administration as assistant to the President.

“My mental acuity is as good as it was 50 years ago,” says Dr. Harvey who prides himself on being active daily nearly around the clock at age 81.  “My energy level is like it was 50 years ago,” he said, exhorting his perpetual drive, despite knee and hip surgery in the last decade. 

While taking an exit from the top daily job in academia, Dr. Harvey touts two forthcoming books near completion –one to be issued this spring, the other, this fall– to be followed by a memoir.

His earlier book, “Principles of Leadership: The Harvey Leadership Model,” a book he published a decade ago offers 10 well defined chapters on leadership ranging from having a vision, work ethic, being innovative and being fiscally conservative. 

Dr. Nebraska Mays, an early Fisk University peer of Dr. Harvey. Dr. Mays, who retired at the turn of the century as senior vice chancellor of the 13 institution Tennessee Board of Regents, was on an academic selection committee that recommended Dr. Harvey be recruited as Hampton President. He describes Harvey’s career as one that mirrors the road of Harvey’s predecessor, education icon Booker T. Washington.

Dr. Harvey’s success as an entrepreneur has translated over the years into wealth for himself as well as his family, including 100% ownership of a Pepsi Cola bottling franchised in Houghton, Michigan since the 1970’s. He, and his wife Norma, have given millions of dollars to the university including a priceless art collection for the university library, which bears their names. There is also a statue in his honor, among the more than a dozen that dot the Legacy Park on campus celebrating icons of the past.

Saving and giving to his school on a regular basis is nothing new. He and his wife, Norma, gave his first college, Talladega College (now university) in Alabama, $1.3 million to fund a museum.

Growing from Boy Scout ranks as a child, Dr. Harvey credits much of what he has learned in early life to listening to his mother and dad during the early days of racial segregation and experiencing that life first-hand.

He persevered, despite the odds against him and his family. He earned degrees from Talladega College, Virginia State College, and a doctorate in administration at Harvard University, before trying university administration at Tuskegee and Fisk universities.  Then he made the successful leap to Hampton.

Being a college president, Dr. Harvey counts among his achievements 38,000 Hampton graduates as evidence of his work and notes that 17 Hampton vice presidents under his leadership, have moved up to university presidencies of their own. Hundreds more graduates have gone into other worlds of work with success.

Learning to be a president with leadership substance may be considered by outsiders to be among his toughest challenges, over time. He humbly disputes the characterization of “challenges” however, asserting he was trained to do his job, “to be a good leader. I do what I think is right and let the chips fall where they may,” said Dr. Harvey in a recent telephone interview.

Over the years, institutions that could not cover their ground fell by the wayside as the demands of various accrediting groups became tougher and tougher to meet over the years and private funding, federal and state aid diminished. 

“He will be remembered as a senior statesman,” said Dr. Belle Wheelan, president of the Atlanta-based Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) the major national association for accrediting colleges and universities across the South. “He has been able to work with the White House…and build a strong town government relationship” said Dr. Wheelan, SACCOB board president for 17 years. 

Dr. Wheelan, echoing others, lauded Dr. Harvey as a “remarkable senior statesman, noting he has worked for 11 years with numerous U. S. Presidents of both political parties and served as an advisor on helping Historically Black Colleges and Universities. 

He has mentored numerous college presidents around the country and has step-by-step transitioned Hampton from an out standing technical school in the late 1800’s, to a college and university in the 1900’s to a well- respected and financially stable research institution in the first half of this century.

“He’s leaving quite a legacy,” said Robert Poole, a Fisk alumnus who remembers Dr. Harvey from his early days in Fisk University administration and later when Poole was at Norfolk State University from 1992 to 97.

Poole said he competed with Dr. Harvey on the money raising circuit and did so again when Poole went to Meharry Medical College as senior vice president for development. “He was competitive in a positive way,” said Poole, referring to Dr. Harvey. “He made everybody else better.” 

Dr. Frank Pogue Jr., who knew Dr. Harvey in their Nashville days when he, Pogue, was just across 17th Avenue launching his career at Meharry Medical College, lauds Dr. Harvey as an “excellent leader. He was perhaps the most self -assured person I have ever known,” said Dr. Pogue who left a job at Meharry Medical College as senior research associate in its Center for Research and evaluation to work for the 64 campus State University of New York System with half a million student.

“I wouldn’t want to be the person who follows in his footsteps,” said Dr. Pogue acknowledging the challenge of academic leadership. Dr. Pogue served as President of Edinboro University of Pennsylvania after 24 years in the SUNY system. Dr. Pogue, who served as president of Grambling University in Louisiana after his 10 years at Edinboro has also served as president of three other higher education institutions.   

Dr. Harvey, who served three years in the U.S. Army in the 1960’s and is currently a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserve, has avoided common strategy errors of many young presidents “keeping his board informed,” always making his annual budget and filing voluminous and timely status and condition reports to state, federal and industry regulatory agencies, said Dr. Wheelan.

“Doc. Harvey has been one of the great academics,” said Brett Pulley, Hampton alum, and former reporter for the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. “To have led a place like Hampton so well, he can absolutely take a bow,” Pulley said.