Hampton University announced Monday that its president, William R. Harvey, plans to retire in June 2022 after more than four decades at the helm of the private and historically Black institution in southeast Virginia.

By the time he steps down, Harvey will have served nearly 44 years as Hampton president. The 79-year-old is one of the longest-serving higher-education leaders in the country and a prominent figure in the community of historically Black colleges and universities.

When Harvey took over in 1978 as its 12th president, the school was known as Hampton Institute and Jimmy Carter was in the White House.

Hampton was “slowly losing ground” at the time, according to the school, an acknowledgment of financial difficulties it faced in that era. But its position solidified under Harvey. Hampton was renamed as a university in 1984 in recognition of its academic expansion. Harvey now calls it “one of the best modest-sized universities in the entire country.”

“I like to work. I believe in hard work,” Harvey said in an interview, when asked about his longevity. “That’s how you get ahead in life. … I believe in long term. I believe in treating people right. I believe in fair.” Among other projects in his remaining year and a half, Harvey said he wants to explore developing a museum devoted to the history of slavery.

Hampton occupies a significant place among HBCUs. Founded in 1868 shortly after the Civil War, the school counts among its alumni the famed educator Booker T. Washington, Class of 1875. Another graduate is Rashida Jones, Class of 2002, soon to become president of MSNBC.

Hampton enrolled about 4,300 students in fall 2019, including 3,700 undergraduates. Programs in business, communications, psychology and nursing are among its most popular. During Harvey’s tenure, the university launched 92 academic degrees, including 12 doctoral programs, and added 29 buildings to the campus. Hampton also built a weather antenna that can detect storms up to 2,000 miles away. And the endowment rose from $29 million to more than $300 million, the university said.

The “growth and development that I have witnessed under Dr. Harvey’s successful leadership have been, in a word, triumphant,” Wesley Coleman, chairman of the university’s board of trustees, said in a statement. “The significance of this president’s legendary contributions to Hampton will be celebrated for generations.”

The university said more than 36,000 students have graduated from Hampton during Harvey’s tenure.

Harvey is among relatively few educators in modern times to serve continuously as a college or university president for more than four decades. Richard Gouse, 74, has been president of the New England Institute of Technology in Rhode Island since 1971.

Born in Alabama, Harvey received a bachelor’s degree in history from Talladega College in 1961 and a doctorate in higher education administration from Harvard University in 1972. He held senior administrative positions at Tuskegee University before coming to Hampton. He also owns a PepsiCo bottling company in Michigan.

The Chronicle of Higher Education listed Harvey’s total compensation in 2017 as $835,073, counting a base salary of $495,073 plus benefits. In a profile of Harvey in 2000, the Chronicle reported that he focused intensely on fundraising.

Harvey told the Chronicle that he emphasizes Hampton’s excellence rather than its history when wooing potential donors. “I don’t bill Hampton as a historically black institution,” Harvey said at the time. “I’ve wanted to appeal to people who could give us a lot of money, and who could appreciate quality and efficiency. And I think at some point it gets old to talk about guilt money. So I’ve never used that.”