Dr. William Downs

Dr. William Downs

University President

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.