Community College Research Initiatives

April 18, 2019

Mourning the Loss of Debbie McGhee

Our CCRI team grieves the passing of Deborah McGhee. Debbie devoted her life’s work to UW where she was a campus leader of outcomes assessment. Her leadership, competence and caring approach was widely admired. She inspired us and so many more to find meaning in our work and create meaningful opportunities for learning for our students.

University leadership and the director of the Office of Educational Assessment, where Debbie worked, shared the following letter regarding her passing.

Dear colleagues,

It is with a heavy heart that we write to tell you that Debbie McGhee, a valued member of the Office of Educational Assessment for more than 20 years, succumbed to her three-year battle with cancer on Monday. Debbie leaves behind a true legacy in OEA. Her contributions to OEA, UAA and the UW are countless, and we are going to miss her humor, knowledge and wisdom.

Debbie began in OEA in 1998 as a graduate research associate, taking on her permanent role as a research scientist in 2001. Over the years, she developed a reputation for impeccable research and analysis that truly benefited the entire UW community. Her work studying the validity and reliability of student course evaluations at UW set a gold standard in the field of assessment. Her knowledge of survey methodology and statistical analyses contributed to important studies with university-wide implications, including regular surveys of UW alumni, the Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) survey, and the 2014 UW Undergraduate Retention and Graduation Study. To put it simply, she is irreplaceable.

Yet only listing her work fails to fully capture what Debbie meant to OEA. During a difficult transition for the Office following the retirement of our long-time director, Debbie stepped in to lead the department. Her strong leadership was evident in her ability to not only continue to provide quality research service to campus but also in her ability to bring the staff together and maintain morale through it all. I (Sean) will forever be grateful for Debbie’s leadership and insight into all things OEA and UW. In the short time I knew her, I relied heavily on her listening ear and voice of wisdom as I transitioned to the role of OEA’s director. I was so looking forward to the collaborations that lay before us, and I will miss her very much.

Those of you who knew Debbie knew that she was a private person. She was ever-stoic in the face of an unforgiving and at times debilitating illness. This past year has been especially hard for Debbie, and she had been on leave since mid-March seeking intensive treatment. When we learned last week of complications with Debbie’s treatment and that she didn’t have much time, we tried our best to contact those who knew her. We are heartened to know that many important people from OEA’s past and present were able to say goodbye to their long-time and valued friend. She was surrounded by a community of love and comfort until the end.

We each respond to sad news in different ways. Please take the time to be with one another and support each other. If you are feeling a need for additional resources, UW CareLink (for UW permanent staff) or the UW Counseling Center (for students) are available to help.

We will be planning a celebration of Debbie’s life and contributions to UW in the coming weeks and will be sure to communicate those details to you as they become available.


Ed Taylor
Vice Provost and Dean

Jason Johnson
Senior Associate Dean and Associate Vice Provost

Sean Gehrke
Director of Educational Assessment