category: President's Blog

August 2019: Rolling Up Our Sleeves

August 2019 President's Blog Image


July was an amazing time of transition for me, and I am profoundly grateful to the entire Gardner-Webb family for the warm and sustained welcome. Boiling Springs already has the distinct feel of home. With each new day, Kim and I feel more and more blessed to be here!

Beginning a new job typically entails a bit of the proverbial drinking from a firehose. Lots of new faces, lots of new information, lots of ideas for how we could and should move forward. I’ve enjoyed every bit of that full immersion experience, and the process of getting to know Gardner-Webb will continue to accelerate for some time to come.

Admittedly, the presidential startup has also had its share of fun—hype videos with our mascot and our Bulldog Movers, a Facebook Live Q&A session, and more tweets and Instagram posts than I care to admit. It has been important to celebrate this new chapter in our institution’s history in a lively manner, and I tip my hat to our social media team for helping us tell the story.

All told, a very full and very good July!


I’m a big believer in first impressions. They’re often accurate. As a candidate for the Gardner-Webb presidency, I had overwhelmingly positive first impressions of GWU’s academic programs, its personnel, and its campus. Now, those first impressions have been validated and further reinforced during my first month in office. I continue to collect additional first impressions, a few of which I’d like to share:

  • Students love their school. The students are our number one priority, and at Gardner-Webb our students really do seem to care passionately about the institution and about each other. Those with whom I have had the chance to speak feel academically challenged. They respect the faculty and often feel inspired by them. They recognize the special character of our university, and they embrace it.
  • Faculty and staff have done heroic work facilitating student success. In meeting after meeting, I have heard from university employees that they, too, love this school. Our faculty and staff are dedicated to helping students navigate the path to degree and the journey through life. We have master teachers and caring mentors.
  • Our campus is a major selling point. We are blessed with a beautiful location. Our grounds are magnificent, and the staff do a wonderful job maintaining them. I believe one key to recruiting new students to Gardner-Webb is simply to get them to campus…they’ll fall for it, just as I have.
  • Our Admissions team is focused and aggressive. We have all hands on deck working to grow enrollments at GWU. Visits to campus are up. Applications are up. We anticipate the coming year’s freshman class to be larger than last year’s. Where we need to make up ground is in transfers, and one of our goals moving forward will be to deconstruct any barriers that might make it difficult for students to transfer into Gardner-Webb.
  • Years of fiscal stress have taken their toll. There’s no hiding the fact that Gardner-Webb, like almost every other university and college in this state and around this country, has had to cope with its share of austerity in recent years. Doing more with less is never fun, and this weighs heavily here. We can be honest and open about this reality…the key lies in how we respond.
  • There is an air of optimism and renewed good will as we begin to map out our shared future. From every office and from every corner of campus, I hear the willingness—indeed the eagerness—of members of the university family to get busy building a better Gardner-Webb. I am energized by the cascade of constructive ideas for boosting morale, preserving excellence, and growing a culture of continuous improvement.


The 2019-20 academic year has yet to begin, and the bulk of our faculty and students will not arrive back on campus for another couple of weeks. There is so much more active listening and learning that I intend to do once GWU is again brimming with activity. But I want you to know that we are already rolling up our sleeves and getting busy with the important work of leading this University.

In my first 30 days, I have:

  • held productive meetings with key stakeholders (SGA, alumni, trustees, Staff Council, the Faculty Chair, local church and civic leaders);
  • elevated the Vice President for Christian Life and Service to a cabinet-level position (reporting directly to the President), underscoring the importance I place on our institution’s distinctive identity and mission;
  • launched solutions-focused workgroups tasked with addressing issues of affordability, athletic success, employee holidays, and transfer processes;
  • established a series of monthly meetings that will connect university leaders with Boiling Springs town leaders;
  • engaged administrators, faculty, and staff in dialogue about concerns raised in GWU’s 2018 climate survey;
  • created a new Academic Council that includes college and school deans in regular communication with the President and Provost; and
  • scheduled meetings with faculty in all individual academic departments, beginning at the start of the Fall semester.


With the arrival of August, I have a clearer view of all that is possible at Gardner-Webb. I look forward with great anticipation to meeting more faculty, staff, and students as the campus comes alive for a new academic year. We’ll soon be working on a strategic plan for the university, redesigning the website, and gearing up for a major fundraising push. It feels good to have the sleeves rolled up and the good work underway…

Pro Deo et Humanitate,

Dr. William M. Downs

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July 2019: New Beginnings

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2019 Fall Academic Convocation

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