President Downs at Spring 2021 Commencement

Welcome to the Office of Dr. William Downs, President of Gardner-Webb University.

Dr. William M. Downs is Gardner-Webb University’s 13th President and began his term on July 1, 2019.


A Raleigh native, Downs earned his BA in Political Science (with a minor in Journalism) from North Carolina State University in 1988, and he holds MA (1990) and PhD (1994) degrees in Political Science from Emory University. Dr. Downs grew up in an academic family, with both parents on the faculty at NCSU.

Prior to his appointment at Gardner-Webb, Downs was Dean of the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, Professor of Political Science, and W. Keats Sparrow Distinguished Chair in the Liberal Arts at East Carolina University. As Dean, Downs had responsibility for ECU’s largest and most diverse academic college, with 16 standalone departments, 17 interdisciplinary programs, 6,500 majors at undergraduate and graduate levels, and more than 530 faculty and staff. During his five years in Greenville, Dr. Downs served as president of ECU’s chapter of the Phi Kappa Phi national honor society and as a member of the executive board for A Time for Science.

Downs was Area Dean for Social and Behavioral Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences at Georgia State University, where he was a member of the faculty for 17 years. Before his service in the Dean’s Office at Georgia State, Downs was Chair of the Department of Political Science and, before that, Director of Graduate Studies in Political Science. At Georgia State he was founder and Co-Director of the interdisciplinary Center for Human Rights and Democracy as well as faculty coordinator for semester-long study abroad programs in Strasbourg, France and Nottingham, England. He served as liaison to the GSU College of Education and to the University System of Georgia’s educator preparation and teacher training programs. For more than a decade, Downs coordinated the University’s Certificate Program in European Union Studies, combining traditional classroom learning with distance education and immersion experiences in Europe.

Downs’ research and teaching expertise lies at the intersection of comparative politics and international relations. His work addresses four interconnected themes: 1) political extremism and the politics of rejection, 2) elections and electoral behavior, 3) decentralization, regionalism, and the politics of place, and 4) legislative institutions. His books have been published by Ohio State University Press, Palgrave Macmillan, and Epikentro. Additional work has appeared in such journals as Parliamentary Affairs, Local Government Studies, Electoral Studies, West European Politics, Government and Opposition, Journal of Legislative Studies, Regional and Federal Studies, and Publius: The Journal of Federalism. His study of “Sub-National Legislatures” appears in The Oxford Handbook of Legislative Studies. Downs’ research in political science led to funded partnerships with faculty at Queens University, Belfast (Northern Ireland), the University of Strasbourg (France), and the University of Pretoria (South Africa).

Downs has been a research fellow at Harvard University’s Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, a graduate research associate working on democratization movements at the Carter Center’s African Governance Program, and a Fulbright dissertation researcher in Belgium. His work has also been supported by the Belgian-American Educational Foundation. As an undergraduate student, Downs served as an intern in the North Carolina Lieutenant Governor’s Office and also studied abroad in the United Kingdom. His first post-doctoral positions were on the faculties of two universities in Denmark—Odense University (now the University of Southern Denmark) and Aarhus University. He also held a one-year post as Visiting Assistant Professor at Emory University.

President Downs is married to fellow Raleigh native and childhood sweetheart, Kimberly Harwood Downs. Kim is a 1989 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Pharmacy and has three decades of experience as a practicing pharmacist. Together, Bill and Kim have raised two children, Rachel and Bradley. Rachel is a 2018 graduate of the University of Georgia (Chemistry, French) and is entering the School of Dental Medicine at East Carolina University. Bradley is a sophomore studying political science and economics at North Carolina State University.

President Downs and his family have joined Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church in Shelby.

Writings, Remarks, Video And Media Coverage

Gardner-Webb University President Dr. William Downs joins Brendan Boylan to explore the Campus of Champions. The two chat about the impact of Runnin’ Bulldog athletics, the best places to sit to watch games, and some of the president’s favorite moments for students during his time at GWU.

Dr. William Downs is a regular podcast host for Bulldog Dialogue. Guests offer a landscape of diverse thought and engaging discussions covering a wide-range of topics impacting our world on campus and around the globe.

  • On this episode of Bulldog Dialogue, we welcome Dr. Josh Parrott. Josh was named as the vice president and university chaplain for Christian Life and Service for Gardner-Webb University in February.
    The Christian life of the University has been a priority for Gardner-Webb since it was founded in 1905, and that continues today.
    Josh is a GWU alumnus and has 21 years of combined experience in the Church and in higher education. Today he shares his journey back to GWU and offers a glimpse of the services and programs offered by this essential office.
  • Bulldog Dialogue: Episode 18
    On this episode of Bulldog Dialogue, we welcome Gardner-Webb Alumna, and new Big South Commissioner Sherika Montgomery. Today she shares her vision, passion and hopes for the future of the Big South Conference and reflects on lessons learned as a Runnin’ Bulldog.
    She played for the ‘dawgs from 2007-2010 and was part of the 2010 Big South Conference regular season championship squad that posted a 28-5 record. Sherika has also worked with the NCAA as an advocate for inclusion, diversity, compliance, and women’s athletics. She has also served at fellow Big South member Winthrop University and as Deputy Commissioner for the Missouri Valley Conference.
    We’ll also explore some Gardner-Webb news and social happenings.
  • Bulldog Dialogue: Episode 17
    On April 22, The Town of Boiling Springs and the University will come together to celebrate Webbstock ’23 with live music, food trucks and arts and crafts vendors on Main St. and the GWU campus. Joining us today on Bulldog Dialogue is Boiling Springs Town Manager, Justin Longino and WebbStock Committee member & VP for Marketing at Gardner-Webb, Richard McDevitt.
    We’ll also explore some Gardner-Webb news and social happenings and have an interview with Brandon Kirkley of Cassette Rewind.
  • Bulldog Dialogue: Episode 16 – Bulldog Dialogue 16: Celebrating The Big Dance at Gardner-Webb The Gardner-Webb Women’s Basketball team, Big South Champs, will play at No. 2 seed Utah on Friday, March 17th, in the first round of the NCAA Division I Basketball Championships. The Runnin’ Bulldogs (29-4), the No. 15 seed in the region, are taking on the Utes (25-4) from the PAC-12 Conference in the inaugural matchup between the two.
    GWU President William Downs offers a deep dive into what’s ahead for this game and how you can celebrate GWU athletics on Episode 16 of Bulldog Dialogue with guests:
    – GWU Women’s Basketball Coach Alex Simmons
    – Marc Rabb, Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations
    – Wes Cogdill, Executive Director of the Bulldog Club
    – Micahla Funderburk, “6th Woman Award” recipient for Women’s Basketball, Junior, Guard, hometown Charlotte, N.C.
    Four of Gardner-Webb’s five starters earned All-Big South honors in 2023, led by Player of the Year and Big South Tournament MVP Jhessyka Williams – who needs only three more points to become the second-leading scorer in program history. She is already the third woman in Gardner-Webb basketball annals to reach 2,000 career points, sitting at 2,029 after tying a Big South title game record with 33 points on March 5th. We’ll also explore some Gardner-Webb news and social happenings.
  • Bulldog Dialogue: Episode 15 – Today we’ll explore the creation and dissemination of knowledge and dive into the pillars of higher education. Our guests today on Bulldog Dialogue episode 15 are Gardner-Webb’s newest academic deans. Dr. Robert G. Prickett began his role as the dean of the College of Arts & Sciences in January, and Dr. Natalie Bishop was promoted to dean of Gardner-Webb’s Dover Library in February. The two join Gardner-Webb President William Downs on this episode of Bulldog Dialogue to share their journeys to GWU, expectations for their posts, and what excites them about life at the Webb. We’ll also explore Gardner-Webb on social and offer some opportunities for you to engage in course work at GWU.
  • Bulldog Dialogue: Episode 14 – The Gardner-Webb Women’s Basketball team have had a legendary season including a 16-0 start in Big South Conference play (a first in conference history), a regular season championship (the first since 2010), and three different 1,000-point career scorers on the same team (a first at GWU).
    Today on Bulldog Dialogue: Episode 14, we welcome Head Coach Alex Simmons and student-athletes, Lauren Bevis, Jhessyka Williams, and Alasia Smith. They’ll reflect on the season, the undeniable team chemistry, their careers (so far), and look ahead to the Big South Tournament in Charlotte, March 1st-5th. All that and more on this episode of Bulldog Dialogue with host GWU President William Downs.
  • Bulldog Dialogue: Episode 13 – GWU Soccer Coach Scott Wells Featured on Bulldog Dialogue (Episode 13) Originally from Coventry, England, new Gardner-Webb Men’s Soccer Coach Scott Wells comes to Boiling Springs after building UNC Greensboro into a top-5 national program as associate head coach and lead recruiter. Today, on Bulldog Dialogue he shares his story, his love of the sport, his vision for the Runnin’ Bulldogs, and answers the question … is he a Ted Lasso fan? All that and more on this episode of Bulldog Dialogue with host GWU President William Downs.
  • Bulldog Dialogue: Episode 12 – David and Marie Brinkley are longtime Gardner-Webb University supporters. Active through participation on boards, engaging in campus events and faithful financial giving, their impact is monumental for numerous programs. From athletics, to the marching band, to the lead gift for the forthcoming Brinkley Amphitheater, David and Marie are building an example of philanthropy at GWU. Today, they speak with Gardner-Webb President William Downs about their drive and passion for giving, community service, and why actively living a life through faith fuels their heart’s desires. (December 1, 2022
  • Bulldog Dialogue: Episode 11 – The Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs earned the 2022 Big South Football Championship with a 38-17 win over North Carolina A&T to gain a birth into the 24-team FCS Playoffs for a chance at a national championship. Today on Bulldog Dialogue: Episode 11, GWU President William Downs sits down with Head Football Coach Tre Lamb, RB Narii Gaither, and QB Bailey Fisher to reflect on the season, the Big South Championship game, and a scouting report for Eastern Kentucky, the first-round playoff opponent. Gardner-Webb will play its first Division I FCS Playoff game on Sat., Nov. 26 at Eastern Kentucky (Richmond), with kickoff set for 5 pm. (November 21, 2022)
  • Bulldog Dialogue: Episode 10 – Dr. Andrew T. Goodrich was recently named Gardner-Webb’s Vice President and Director of Athletics. Today on Bulldog Dialogue: Episode 10, he speaks with GWU President William Downs about the state of collegiate athletics, Name Image and Likeness (NIL), his vision for GWU sports, and his championship mindset. (October 12, 2022)
  • Bulldog Dialogue: Episode 9 – Wes Cogdill is the executive director for the GWU Bulldog Club, and he’s our guest for episode 9 or Bulldog Dialogue. (October 6, 2022)
  • Bulldog Dialogue: Episode 8 – For many college students, higher education would be impossible without financial support provided by scholarships and the individuals who provide them. On today’s episode of Bulldog Dialogue, GWU President William Downs welcomes Leah Carpenter, Kyndal Jackson and Kylee Morris to share a student’s perspective on collegiate life, service, community, and the importance of being recognized as a Tucker Scholar. (September 8, 2022)
  • Bulldog Dialogue: Episode 7 – GWU President Dr. William Downs welcomes Cleveland County Manager Brian Epley, and Boiling Springs Town Manager Justin Longino to this episode of Bulldog Dialogue.  (August 4, 2022)
  • Bulldog Dialogue: Episode 6 – Clayton King, a Gardner-Webb alumnus, speaks about the genesis of the ministry, the benefits/distractions of social media, and the current and future state of the Church and institutions and people of faith. (July 27, 2022)
  • Bulldog Dialogue: Episode 5 – We explore a musical tradition that is over a century old and counting. Guests include Dr. Sarah Fabian, director of athletic bands at Gardner-Webb and Jim Coates, CEO and Executive Director for the internationally recognized Carolina Crown. (June 2, 2022)
  • Bulldog Dialogue: Episode 4 – We’re happy to welcome North Carolina Senator Ted Alexander. We’ll explore the Senator’s journey, his thoughts on public service, and what we all can do to become better citizens and leaders. (May 27, 2022)
  • Bulldog Dialogue: Episode 3 – Dr. William Downs welcomes outgoing Student Government Association President, Jada Newton and SGA President-elect, Blake Elizalde to share thoughts on the Gardner-Webb student experience. (May 4, 2022)
  • Bulldog Dialogue: Episode 2 – Dr. William Downs dives in deep to talk about the launch of the rebranded Gardner-Webb athletic logo and what it means for Bulldog Nation. (April 28, 2022)
  • Bulldog Dialogue: Episode 1 – Dr. William Downs welcomes new University provost Dr. Karen Aubrey and head football coach of the Runnin’ Bulldogs, Tre Lamb. (April 21, 2022)


Join Dr. William Downs, President of Gardner-Webb University, as he embarks on a journey to engage in meaningful conversations with exceptional individuals who have played a pivotal role in shaping the greatness of Gardner-Webb. Explore the distinctive contributions of these special people who have left an indelible mark on the university’s legacy.

1st Downs: Episode #1: Carley Tallent

Travel with us today as we visit GWU alumna and current head women’s basketball coach for Shelby High School, Carley Plentovich Tallent. Tallent was a standout student-athlete at GWU, and was one of the most prolific shooters in program history. Tallent finished her career ranked first all-time in free throw percentage, second in three-pointers made, single game records, and 17th overall in points. Today, Tallent speaks with President Downs about her career at GWU, her transition into coaching, NIL, the transfer portal, her future goals, and more.

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