Gardner-Webb University names an East Carolina dean as its new president

An East Carolina University dean will become the next president of Gardner-Webb University, the North Carolina school said Wednesday.

William Downs will begin his term as Gardner-Webb’s 13th president on July 1. He’s now dean of the Thomas Harriot College of Arts & Sciences at ECU.

Trustees confirmed Downs’ appointment on Feb. 7 after a year-long national search to replace former president Frank Bonner, who announced his retirement in January 2018, effective this Jan. 31.

Trustee David Royster III, who lead the search committee, said Downs, a 51-year-old political scientist from Raleigh, has both significant leadership experience and a deep understanding of higher education.

“He has served as a faculty member, department chair, program director and dean,” Royster said in a statement. “The board of trustees has faith that Gardner-Webb will thrive and continue to provide transformative opportunities for students under his guidance.”

Trustees’ Chair Jennifer Marion Mills cited Downs’ “academic depth, significant leadership experience and vision.”

Gardner-Webb is a private, Christian, liberal arts university in Boiling Springs, a foothills town 50 miles west of Charlotte. About 4,500 students attend the school.

At East Carolina, where he’s been since 2014, Downs oversees 16 academic departments and 17 interdisciplinary degree programs in the College of Arts & Sciences.

Downs served roles including area dean, department chair, director and professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta, where he worked from 1997 to 2014. He’s the author of “Political Extremism in Democracies: Combating Intolerance,” and has been a research fellow at Harvard University, a graduate research associate at the nonprofit Carter Center in Atlanta and a Fullbright Research Fellow in Belgium.

In a statement, Downs said he was attracted to Gardner-Webb by its “mission and underlying values, its people and programs, and its rich traditions of excellence. Together, we will have the chance to write a new chapter in the history of one of North Carolina’s great universities. I cannot wait to get started.”

Downs earned his bachelor’s degree from N.C. State University and his master’s and doctoral degrees in political science from Emory University in Atlanta. He’s married and has two children.

Bruce Henderson writes about transportation, emerging issues and interesting people for The Charlotte Observer. His reporting background is in covering energy, environment and state news.