President Wilson H. Elkins of the University of Maryland, who guided the university through a period of unprecedented growth and change during the last two decades, will retire at the end of next academic year.

Named president of the university in 1954, Elkins had held that post longer than any person in the university's history and his term in office is believed to be the longest of any current president of a major, state-supported university.

Elkins, who reaches the state mandatory retirement age of 70 next year, took office when Maryland's enrollment was 15,000 students and its annual budget $23 million. Currently the university enrollment is 78,000 students spread ove five campuses and it operates on an annual budget of $316.8 million.

B. Herbert's Brown, chairman of the university's board of regents, praised Elkins as a "tremendous motivating force at the University of Maryland for nearly a quarter-century."

"It is with the board's and my own deepest regret that I accept Dr. Elkin's retirement date," Brown said.

Known as a tough, stern administrator, Elkins' career at Maryland spanned the somolent campus years of the mid-1950s through an era of dramatic expansion in the late 1950s and 1960s. Unlike many college presidents, he survived the protests and turbulence of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Laconic and often gruff, Elkins said simply of his retirement. "It has been a great privilege to serve as president during the past 23 years, and I shall continue to serve during the coming year to the best of my ability?

Born on a West Texas farm, Elkins grew up in San Antonio and worked his way through the University of Texas, paying part of his expenses with an athletic scholarship. There he quarterbacked the football team, earned the nickname of "Bull" Elkins and won varsity letters in basketball and track.

He also pulled down a Phi Beta Kappa key and a Rhodes scholarship, which sent him to Oxford for two years where he earned a Ph D.

After holding a variety of teaching and administrative posts in Texas, Elkins became president of what is now the University of Texas at El Paso, the post he left to take the job at Maryland.

When he arrived in College Park, he found a school with a strong football tradition, where teams were ranked regularly in the top 10, but with an academic program that was weak and accreditation in jeopardy.

"The emphasis had to be on the academic program, and its accomplishments and aims," Elkins said in an interview some years later, but even so, it would be a decade before Phi Beta Kappa would permit a chapter on the Maryland campus.

As enrollments continued to soar during Elkins' tenure, a new Baltimore County campus was opened in 1965. The administrative structure was overhauled so that chancellors were named to run each of the university's five campuses, leaving Elkins as administrator of a central office, removed from most faculty and students.

Nevertheless, in the turmoil of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Elkins was often the target of campus protesters and he tended to take a hard line in dealing with campus dissent.

It was a period when Maryland students were sacking buildings and blocking traffic. The Nation Guard was on campus and Elkins became the target of obscene remarks printed in campus publications. His response was to ban the publications.

When two faculty members wrote letters of a campus newspaper protesting the suspension of students in connection with campus disorders, Elkins' blocked their promotions, although he later yielded and permitted the promotions to take effect.

Elkins is only the fourth president of Maryland in the past 60 years. His predecessor, Harry C. Byrd, held that office from 1935 to 1954.