magazine-category: Featured Story

GWU Names Dr. William M. Downs as 13th President

Dr. Downs

Gardner-Webb University’s new president, Dr. William M. Downs, describes GWU as a “hidden gem.” Working with faculty, staff and alumni, his goal is to polish all facets of Gardner-Webb’s brilliance for everyone to see.

“I don’t want anybody in North Carolina to ever ask again,
‘Where’s Gardner-Webb?’” Downs offered. “They should know—and they will know—who we are. They should know where we are, and they should be very clear about the impact we are making.”

He hopes to extend that name recognition far beyond the state.
“That’s a challenge, but it provides us an opportunity to get creative, entrepreneurial and aggressive about pushing our brand out,” he asserted. “We had a wonderful moment with March Madness and the success of our men’s basketball team—when all of a sudden the country heard about Gardner-Webb and Boiling Springs. We want to build on that momentum. We want them to know that there is not just excellent athletics here, but that we have incredible academic programs and incredible world class scholars here as well.”

Downs officially began his term on July 1, selected unanimously by the Gardner-Webb Board of Trustees after a highly competitive one-year national search. In his first meeting with faculty and staff, Downs described his excitement about his new role.

“I am honored to be here; I am humbled, and I am excited. To be president of Gardner-Webb University is, in my view, the privilege of a lifetime and certainly of my career,” shared Downs, the 13th president of Gardner-Webb University.

“Together, we have the opportunity to provide a world-class education in a caring, compassionate Christian environment. That’s our mission at its core and that is precisely what we will do.”

Downs’ career spans over two decades of service in higher education. Before GWU, he was dean of the Thomas Harriot College of Arts & Sciences at East Carolina University (ECU) in Greenville, N.C. He had been at ECU since 2014 and was also the W. Keats Sparrow Distinguished Chair in the Liberal Arts and a professor of political science.
According to David Royster III, a GWU Board of Trustees member and chairman of the Presidential Search Committee, Downs impressed the committee with his significant leadership experience. “He has served as a faculty member, department chair, program director and dean,” Royster noted. “The Gardner-Webb Board of Trustees has faith that this university will thrive and continue to provide transformative opportunities for students under his guidance.”

At ECU, Downs introduced several initiatives to improve undergraduate research and international study opportunities.

“I am an avowed internationalist, both in my own scholarship and in my approach to higher education,” Downs remarked. “I firmly believe that our students must have global competence if they are going to be competitive in a global economy and thrive in a global society.”

From 1997 to 2014, Downs served various roles at Georgia State University (Atlanta), including dean, department chair, director and professor. He is an accomplished lecturer, research scholar and the author of “Political Extremism in Democracies: Combating Intolerance.” He has been a research fellow at Harvard University’s Minda
de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, a graduate research associate at the Carter Center’s African Governance Program and a Fulbright Research Fellow in Belgium.
A Raleigh native, Downs earned his Bachelor of Arts in political science (with a minor in journalism) from North Carolina State University (Raleigh) in 1988, and his Master of Arts (‘90) and Doctoral (‘94) degrees in political science from Emory University (Atlanta). Downs is married to Kimberly Harwood Downs and has two children, Rachel and Bradley.

He and his family are long-time followers of the Christian faith. “I fully embrace Gardner-Webb’s commitment to providing rigorous academic programs in a compassionate Christian environment,” noted Downs, “and I look forward to celebrating the University’s Baptist heritage.”

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