July 2019: New Beginnings

 

New Beginnings: July 2019

Dear Gardner-Webb Family:

Today, I have the privilege of officially starting my service as the Thirteenth President of Gardner-Webb University. I really can’t begin to tell you just how excited I am, but you can bet I’m going to try!

This is a special place, one that is driven by a lofty purpose. Our history has been built upon the vision and efforts of countless individuals who dared to dream. Their ambition to educate others set in motion the rapid ascent of an institution that now boasts acclaimed degree programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels, an accomplished and dedicated faculty, a capable and committed staff, and a student body that at most recent count represents 86 counties in North Carolina, 39 states across the country, and 19 foreign countries.

In the crowded marketplace that is higher education in America, a degree from Gardner-Webb carries great value. Our graduates go on to impressive careers and impactful lives. They leave our university with a solid liberal arts foundation along with the skills needed to thrive in professional settings. They leave confident not just in what they can provide their employers; more importantly, they leave confident in who they are and who they have become. That confidence derives in no small part from the Christian values that Gardner-Webb promotes and upholds.

The University’s foundation is decidedly strong, and our future is unquestionably bright. It is on that future that I will, not surprisingly, focus my attention and efforts. As I begin my presidency, I will look to inventory and assess all of our degree programs to ensure that our offerings are attractive, rigorous, and relevant. We will invest in existing programs where we anticipate new possibilities for enrollment growth, and we will invest in creating new programs where we may gain comparative advantage and build strong pipelines for recruitment. We will have to do a better job yielding new students from the places where we have traditionally sought them, and—perhaps most importantly—we will have to seek out new students from new markets. We will have to anticipate future trends and beat others to them, rather than react and try to play catchup. We will need to be bold, distinctive, and authentic. That means remaining true to our core values while being nimble in our academic programing, so that we may meet the needs of a dynamic economy and a diverse society.

As an institution, we will be measured not just by the goodness in our hearts, but by the products we deliver. We are here, first and foremost, to educate and inspire our students. Students choose Gardner-Webb because they believe they will receive a world-class education—we must deliver. We are here to be exemplars of our Christian faith, guiding our students along a spiritual journey that complements the traditional academic path taken by others—we must deliver. We are here to make a lasting difference in the quality of life for our community and our region—we must deliver on this, too. For Gardner-Webb to fully realize its potential, it must be seen as an indispensable partner for others who are working across western North Carolina and beyond to improve the human condition.

We will devote great energy to establishing Gardner-Webb as a destination university…an institution of first choice. To do so, we must extend our brand and our name recognition. We must shore up our facilities and our amenities. We must be strategic and aggressive about marketing all that is great and good about our campus and our community. We must be visible and we must be relevant. We must celebrate the high-impact practices and immersion experiences available to our students…music, the arts, service organizations, study abroad and mission opportunities. Most of all, we must exude confidence and optimism in our own future; otherwise, who would want to join us? The narrative that we all project must be one that invites, welcomes, and encourages others to want to be part of the Gardner-Webb experience.

We’re going to be busy, my friends:

  • We must address issues of affordability for our students.
  • We must pay close attention to the business of the university, so that we can take better care of those who devote their careers to Gardner-Webb.
  • We must begin preparations for the University’s next capital campaign, so that we have the means not just to survive but to thrive.
  • We must repair and rebuild relationships with our alumni and community partners, as they will be instrumental to our future success.
  • We must leverage our status as a Division I institution to build successful programs for our student-athletes, for our alumni, and for our community. I am not afraid to say that I want to win championships.

To be sure, there are challenges here just as there are challenges at every college and university. I have already heard from many of you about the nature and extent of some of those challenges. Starting today, I am organizing a systematic listening and learning tour of campus so that I may better understand what you all need in order to be successful. Together, we will seek solutions—moving swiftly where we can, chipping away incrementally where we must—to those areas where we could and should do better. I enjoy being part of a culture of continuous improvement, and I hope you will join me in working constructively to strengthen this great university.

Folks, we won’t all agree on everything all of the time. That’s simply in the nature of any large, complex organization. However, if we stay glued together, if we genuinely and actively support each other, and if we remain focused above all else on the success of our students, then we cannot fail.

Across this beautiful campus that we call home, we will aspire to a sense of community that is mutually supportive. We will live up to the principles and values that we profess to cherish—compassion, respect, peace, and hope. We will seek to model these values such that Gardner-Webb University becomes an exemplar and a recognized leader in private, Christian higher education.

I look forward to working with each and every one of you. I will be accessible, and I will always endeavor to be responsive. Please know that I am all in for Gardner-Webb. I believe in you, and I believe in us. I have faith that we are all here at this time and in this place for a reason. Together, we will protect and preserve all of those many traditions of excellence already in place at GWU. Together, we will fix what needs to be fixed, build what needs to be built, and write the next impressive chapter for our university. We will make absolutely sure that bright futures continue to ignite at Gardner-Webb University.

Thank you for all you do! Thank you for your ideas, for your energy, and for your good will!

Pro Deo et Humanitate,

Dr. William M. Downs
President