University of Maryland Eastern Shore President William P. Hytche, the courtly 66-year-old educator who piloted his campus over two decades from a sleepy college into a full-fledged university, will retire at the end of the school year.
"I just thought that the university is at a stage now where instead of someone slowing down, we ought to have a younger person in to carry the torch," Dr. Hytche said during a telephone interview yesterday. "I've been thinking about [stepping down] for over a year."
While he has been a genial but persistent champion for historically black colleges in Maryland and nationally, Dr. Hytche's identity has almost been merged with that of the Princess Anne campus.
Dr. Hytche worked his way up to the school's presidency from his first job at UMES in 1960 as a mathematics instructor, eventually becoming a department chairman, a dean and a vice president.
"The university has certainly grown in stature under his leadership, and impressively so," said state Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, a Republican from the Lower Shore. "It's a place we're proud of now."
"Bill is unfailingly gentlemanly, and at the same time is very forceful, very persistent," said University of Maryland system chancellor Donald N. Langenberg. "He's a wonderful cheerleader for the university."
UMES' current status offers a stark contrast to what it was when Dr. Hytche arrived 35 years ago at what was then called Maryland State College. In 1960, there were about 700 students, all of whom passed through his required classes in algebra, geometry and trigonometry. Only a handful of students and faculty members were white. Starved for funds, the university was not able to spend much money to maintain the campus' grounds and did not even have enough funds for lanterns to light the campus at night.
Now, the school expects to enroll 3,500 undergraduates in the most integrated student body of any public campus in Maryland, Dr. Hytche said. UMES boasts a white student enrollment that fluctuates between one-quarter and one-third of the total.
In his time at the helm, UMES has doubled its library holdings, established an honors program and forged close links to nearby Salisbury State University and Maryland's professional schools in Baltimore.
The cooperation between Dr. Hytche and Salisbury State President Thomas Bellavance, encouraged by former University of Maryland system chief John S. Toll, helped to stave off state legislators who sought to merge the two campuses, several educators said.
In an era when full integration was thought to sound the death knell for historically black public campuses, that was no mean feat, other administrators said.
"They wanted to close us down, merge us, make a chicken farm out of us, make a prison out of us," Dr. Hytche recalled.
"In those days, there was a lot of talk of closing the institution," Dr. Bellavance said. "Bill's quiet. He's kind of deceiving that way. You don't dare pull anything off on him. He wants to keep the objective in front of him, never mind the personalities."
At the time of the merger-closing discussions in the late 1970s, the campus had added no academic programs and no new buildings in decades. Enrollment stood at about 900.
Since that year, the school has created more than 20 new degree programs and added a number of buildings, with a multimillion-dollar student union and physical education center on the way.
"There are few institutions in the country that have been transformed as much by one individual as UMES was by Dr. Hytche," said Dr. Toll, now president of Washington College in Chestertown. "He has truly lived day and night for that campus."
In 1987, during the celebration of the school's 100th year, UMES awarded its first doctoral degree.
Since then, the school has added several programs weaving together practical and theoretical training -- including management programs in construction, hospitality and poultry.
He was named acting chancellor in 1975, but reportedly only agreed to the job offer from University of Maryland system President Wilson Elkins when he was promised the authority of a fully vested president during the search for a permanent replacement.
A year later, Dr. Hytche was made the school's permanent chief. (With the restructuring of the university system in 1988, each campus leader was called president rather than chancellor.)
A native of Porter, Okla., Dr. Hytche received degrees from Langston University and Oklahoma State University. Before arriving in Maryland, he had taught in the public schools of Ponca City, Okla., and at Oklahoma State University.
"I don't know what I'm going to do now," Dr. Hytche said. "I always did want to go out when I had an opportunity to do something else. I've tried to figure out what I want to do."