MSUM's next president says university must keep challenging itself: 'We can't become complacent'
"When I found out that grit, humility and heart were a part of Moorhead, that was something that made me smile," Tim Downs said.
MOORHEAD — As Tim Downs took the stage at the Roland Dille Center for the Arts on Friday, March 24, he said his heart “was swelling with Dragon pride.”
Downs, the next president of Minnesota State University Moorhead, will succeed current President Anne Blackhurst starting July 1. Blackhurst has been president of MSUM since 2014 and plans to retire.
The Board of Trustees of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system chose Downs from among five finalists, and his selection was announced Wednesday.
Downs, who's currently the interim chief of staff at California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, was greeted on the MSUM campus by staff and students at a gathering Friday. He told the crowd he will work toward a smooth transition, which he described as a “mind meld” with Blackhurst.
“Throughout the application process I felt a connection. The strong culture of MSUM is palpable, something that I felt right away, even through a Zoom interview,” Downs said.
“It’s cold outside, but how beautiful it is in the midst of winter. Very soon there will be spring and with spring comes rejuvenation, hopes and new dreams,” said Minnesota State Chancellor Devinder Malhotra, who introduced Downs.
Downs is a man who “helps you understand what you are saying to him, and to me that is a trait of a great leader,” Malhotra said. “The future of this university is bright because of your work, because of your passion and commitment, and because of President Blackhurst’s leadership. This university is in a very good position for the future."
Through the interview process, Downs said he discovered MSUM's character. "When I found out that grit, humility and heart were a part of Moorhead, that was something that made me smile. As we continue to succeed, we can’t become complacent. That’s not going to work in higher education,” he said.
In high school, Downs ran track. Shortly after his first race, which he won, he sat down in the bleachers, grabbed an orange to eat, and savored his win. He learned one lesson that has stuck with him from his mother that day.
"I had this glowing smile on my face and apparently I looked like I was invincible. And my mom, she said, 'Don’t rest on your laurels, you still have three races today and now everyone wants to beat you,'" Downs said.
“I really believe we have to challenge ourselves over time to succeed and as we succeed others may succeed and challenge us even more. And I kind of like that,” Downs said.
From 2016 to 2021, Downs was president/CEO of Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota. There, he facilitated efforts that yielded 20 new academic programs and partnerships, including a graduate program expected to become a national benchmark in special education.
Downs said he looks forward to supporting diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at MSUM.
“Everyone needs to have a sense of belonging. All students have an equal opportunity to succeed,” he said.