During his twenty–five year tenure with Hampton University, President William R. Harvey has radically changed the national perception of the school. Since he assumed leadership of the university in 1978, he has pulled Hampton out of constant financial debt and has created a stable income to ensure numerous scholarships and the ability for the university to grow. He has also boosted enrollment by almost 4,000 students, making Hampton University one of the largest traditional black colleges in the nation. His influence has reached outside of the university as well, promoting the welfare of the town of Hampton through land purchases and generous donations. He is also serving numerous other communities through his position and served on the Fannie Mae board of directors where he assisted people in securing money for mortgages. On top of all of this, Harvey is also an astute businessman, venturing into the soft–drink bottling industry when he purchased a Pepsi–Cola Bottling Company franchise in 1986, making him the first African American owner in this industry.
William Robert Harvey was born on January 29, 1941, in Brewton, Alabama, to Mamie Claudis and Willie D.C. Harvey. Brewton, like many Southern towns in the early 1940s, was heavily segregated and African Americans who lived there found that opportunities for education and advancement were often scarce. Harvey's father, however, overcame the adversities of segregation and became a prosperous entrepreneur in the construction business. Willie Harvey also stressed that it was his education that allowed him to get a foothold in an inhospitable town such as Brewton, and it was his example that cemented in Harvey's mind the need for education to ensure success. During high school, Harvey not only succeeded academically, but he also thrived at football and basketball and as the business manager of the school newspaper. Combined with his academic excellence, Harvey soon found numerous colleges offering him academic scholarships.
Choosing to stay close to home, Harvey enrolled at Talladega College in 1957. During his time at Talledaga he took part in the civil rights movement, hoping to get small towns like Brewton free from segregation. In 1961 he graduated from Talladega with a bachelor's degree in history and instead of teaching as he had originally planned, he joined the U.S. Army to fight in Vietnam in 1962. Harvey served in the U.S. Army for three years, and upon his return to the United States he joined the Army Reserve. He would be an active member of the group for the next 30 years, achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1981, before finally receiving a discharge into inactive status.
In 1965 Harvey realized that while he was still interested in education, he was more intrigued by the administrative side of things and he enrolled at Virginia State College to pursue a master's degree in American history with a concentration in educational administration. While at Virginia State he also took up teaching U.S. history for a year at the secondary level. After receiving his master's degree, Harvey served as the deputy director of the Southern Alabama Economic Opportunity Agency until 1968 when he obtained a Woodrow Wilson Foundation's Martin Luther King Fellowship which allowed him to attend Harvard to acquire his doctoral degree. A year into his studies he was named a Harvard University Higher Education Administrative Fellow and he also became a tutor for the Summer Studies Program at Harvard's Adams House. Between 1970 and 1972 Harvey continued his education at Harvard with the aid of an intern fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation.
During his pursuit for a doctoral degree, Harvey began to accumulate practical experience. He gained membership to Harvard's Faculty Committee on Academic Policy, he also became chairman of the Colloquium Board, and between 1969 and 1970 he served as the assistant to the dean for governmental affairs. By 1970 Harvey had begun to write his thesis and moved to Tennessee where he took a position at Fisk University as the assistant to the president of the university. By the time he left Fisk in 1972, he had gained his doctorate of education in administration of higher education. Shortly after, Harvey would take his first real stab at administration when he became the vice president for student affairs at the Tuskegee Institute in 1972. He would keep this position for two years before moving up to the vice president of administrative service in 1974.
In 1978 Hampton Institute (name changed to Hampton University in 1984) found itself in dire straits. With a financial debt in the tens of thousands as well as low enrollment and underrated academic programs, the long standing traditional black college needed new leadership. Hence, in 1978, Hampton began a protracted and competitive search for a new president, a search which garnered over 140 candidates for the position. Harvey quickly jumped at the chance to move into a presidency position and was soon included in the numerous candidates hoping to take over the university. After numerous interviews and proposals by different candidates, Hampton chose Harvey as their new president in July of 1978.
The first few years of Harvey's presidency were spent cleaning up problems at the university that he had inherited. By the end of his first year, he had not only eliminated the massive debt the university was facing but he built up a $44,000 surplus. He also raised academic standards not only for students, but for faculty and administration personnel as well, hoping to raise the overall talent level that was coming into the university. As he said in his inaugural address, republished in Hampton University, he hoped that the administration of Hampton would "continue to strive for truth, beauty, and excellence in all of the things we do. We shall emphasize dignity and decency. In curricular and extra–curricular activities, we shall promote the ideals of self–reliance, learning by doing, and the dignity of labor." Hampton quickly gained a status it had lacked since the early days of the university — as an institution that was on the rise and produced the best and the brightest students regardless of their skin color.
More than just gaining monetary success, Harvey also wanted to prepare the students of Hampton for any situation they might face. Harvey felt that there was more to a college education than just preparing for employment. As he said in Hampton University, he established a number of courses required for graduation that allowed students to do "some thinking about ethics and morals. It is my firm belief that decency is as important as degrees, and I want the Hampton students to not only be good doctors, lawyers, professors, engineers and nurses, but I want them to be good moral leaders who have a sense of commitment to the community and service as well." Harvey hoped to expand these required classes into a four–year mandatory leadership program that would emphasize "values, decency, dignity, honesty, respect for oneself, respect for others [and] integrity." This program would include a year's worth of work in a school community center, or some other type of community outreach program. While Harvey has yet to be able to implement his leadership program into Hampton's curriculum, he has used it as a model to revise the Hampton University Code of Conduct, which set the standards for the quality of students and faculty at the institution.
While Harvey was considered by many to be the man who restored Hampton to greatness, he made numerous controversial moves after he assumed the presidency. In 1986 many critics spoke out when Harvey attempted to increase the percentage of white students at the university from seven percent to around 20 percent. While the total was only raised to about 12 percent, most of which were graduate students, many supporters of the college were worried that Harvey was attempting to move Hampton away from its traditional black student roots. This worry was increased in 1991 when Harvey asked President George H. W. Bush to speak at Hampton's largest graduating class in history. Bush had vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1990 and many felt that it was offensive to have a president who was conservative about race relations and who supported school choice speak at the graduation ceremony of a traditional black college. Many students and faculty protested the ceremony. Three years later Harvey was criticized again, this time for rejecting a request by students for a black studies program. Many people felt that Harvey was concerned about the success of the university on paper and not about the cultural heritage of most of its student body, but as he told the Virginia Daily Press, "At a white school, you need a black studies department. Why do you need one at Hampton? We don't need to emulate a white school with a black studies department."
While Harvey often made controversial decisions in the realm of academics, he seemed to make only correct decisions financially for the college. One of his first acts upon taking the presidency of Hampton was to create a "Hampton University Market Portfolio," a group whose main focus was to raise money for the university through fundraising. This included the enlistment of corporations, foundations, and philanthropists in contributing to everything from money to supplies to name recognition in order to increase Hampton's endowment and stature. He has also focused on getting his faculty involved in fundraising as he did in 1984 when he announced that the dean of each school within Hampton would be required to raise enough funds to finance one–third of its annual operating budget.
Harvey, however, had even bigger ideas for Hampton than just fundraising. By stocking up a good amount of the money that was raised between 1984 and 1989, he was able to begin building Hampton Harbor Project. The Hampton Harbor Project consisted of 60,000 square feet of commercial space for rent, 246 two–bedroom apartments, and many other facilities to entice businesses and customers. While many people felt that the project was too big for Hampton's budget, Harvey was able to procure $2.3 million in grant money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Since its completion in 1990, the Hampton Harbor Project has brought in over $1 million a year, all of which goes directly to Hampton University. The Hampton Harbor Project has also benefited the city of Hampton by creating new jobs, new living accommodations, and a broader tax base.
Hampton, under Harvey's watchful eye, has only continued to prosper financially. During the mid–1990s a successful five–year $30 million fund–raising campaign was waged that brought in $46.4 million. Added to all of the general donations and philanthropic gifts that are given to the university, Hampton University brings in an excess of $100 million a year, allowing for not only a balanced budget but also a surplus during every year of Harvey's presidency.
In addition to growing Hampton financially, Harvey has been growing the academic side of Hampton as well. In 1998 enrollment had risen to approximately 6,000 students, more than double the enrollment of 2,700 students that Harvey oversaw when he took over in 1978. These new students came in with SAT scores 300 points higher than previous freshman classes and hence have prompted the growth of many new programs at the university. Hampton now boasts majors in airway science, museum studies and emergency medical assistance management; graduate programs in marine science, business administration, criminal justice, and electrical engineering; and a Ph.D. program in physics and a School of Pharmacy. To house all of these new fields of study, the campus of Hampton has expanded as well, including eleven new buildings such as the Harvey Library, the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications building, and the state–of–the–art Hampton University Convocation Center.
While Harvey's main concern has always been Hampton, he has continued to improve the community outside of the university as well. In 1992 he developed the Job Education Training Corps (JET) which is designed to develop and strengthen understanding of reading, communication, mathematics, and health issues for high school students. The JET program also has participants working 40 hours a week in public work areas in order to save money for college. In conjunction with JET, Harvey created Hampton's Opportunity Program for Enhancement (HOPE) in 1989 which admits African American males to Hampton University upon demonstration of potential, even if they are not academically prepared for regular admission. The program then works over the summer to ready these students for college life and rewards them with a $1,000 scholarship upon completing the program.
In the community of Hampton, Harvey has also focused his efforts. He served as the first African American to chair the Virginia Peninsula United Way Campaign, raising $6.6 million in his first year. He also raised $17,000 for disaster relief and health safety programs with the American Red Cross.
Harvey is also very busy in the corporate world. In 1986 he purchased a Pepsi–Cola Bottling Company franchise in Houghton, Michigan, making him the first African American to fully own a franchise. He currently serves as the chairman and president of the company. But the Pepsi–Cola Bottling Company is not the only place that Harvey can be found outside of Hampton. Harvey has also served on numerous governmental and educational boards such as the Presidential Commission on Presidential Scholars; the Presidential Advisory Board on Historically Black Colleges; the Advisory Board of the U.S. Department of Commerce; the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, the American Council of Education and the Harvard University Cooperative Society. One of the biggest honors for Harvey came in 2001 when he was named by President George W. Bush to the board of directors of Fannie Mae, which works to supply people with mortgage money in impoverished communities.
Harvey and his wife, Norma Baker Harvey, have three children, Kelly Renee, William Christopher, Leslie Denise, and three grandchildren: Taylor, Gabrielle, and Lauren.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from "A Vision for Our Time," Secretarial Services, 1993, a personal interview with W. Braxter Wiggins on June 24, 1997, and October 14, 1997, and the Hampton University 125th Anniversary Scrapbook: 1868–1993 — The Legacy Continues, obtained from Hampton University, Office of University Relations.
—Ralph G. Zerbonia
Born on January 29, 1941, in Brewton, AL; son of Mamie Claudis and Willie D.C. Harvey; married Norma Baker Harvey, August 13, 1966; children: Kelly Renee, William Christopher, Leslie Denise. Education: Talladega College, BA, 1961; Virginia State University, MA, 1966; Harvard University, PhD, 1972. Military Service: U.S. Army, 1962–65; U.S. Army National Guard Reserve, 1965–.
Secondary school teacher, 1965–66; Southern Alabama Economic Opportunity Agency, deputy director, 1966–68; Harvard Intensive Summer Studies Program, administrative coordinator, 1969; Harvard University, assistant to the dean for government affairs, 1969–70; Fisk University, administrative assistant to the president, 1970–72; Tuskegee Institute, vice president of student affairs, 1972–74, vice president of administrative services, 1974–78; Hampton University, president, 1978–; Pepsi Bottling Company, Houghton, MI, owner, chairman, president, 1986–.