UW News

December 28, 2023

Faculty Senate Chair Cynthia Dougherty brings awareness to faculty well-being

UW News

When Cynthia “Cindy” Dougherty has a difficult or frustrating day, she jogs around the University of Washington.

“At dusk, Husky Stadium looks so beautiful and purple,” Dougherty said. It reminds her of all the potential the UW affords students, staff and the faculty. “I think to myself, ‘All right, come on, this was not a terrible day, your university is a good place.’”

This year, as chair of the UW Faculty Senate, Dougherty has prioritized faculty wellbeing, supporting her peers as they communicate across differences, and a list of policy goals to update parts of the faculty code.

smiling woman

Cynthia Dougherty is Faculty Senate chair.University of Washington

Dougherty is a professor and  nurse practitioner who teaches and leads research in the UW School of Nursing and the UW School of Medicine. She also works with patients at the VA Puget Sound Medical Center, where she helps people who have had cardiac arrest return to healthy activities.

Her research has examined various ways having a cardiac event impacts not just the patients who recover, but the broader constellation of family members, caregivers and first responders.

She’s passionate about better health, often conducting meetings on walks across campus.

“I have one year as a faculty senate chair to get some things accomplished,” she said. “I want to focus on physical and mental health as well as helping us find ways to talk across differences.”

The Faculty Senate, along with President Ana Mari Cauce and Provost Tricia Serio, make up the UW’s governing structure, dictating academic policy and rulemaking. Senators are elected representatives from the UW’s 24 colleges and schools.

Dougherty knows firsthand the toll that working through the pandemic had on the faculty.

“The faculty members are exhausted, burned out. They’re stressed out. They’re angry,” she said. Many faculty members feel like the university’s not paying attention to them.

Dougherty’s response is two pronged: First, she is working to convene a new Faculty Senate subcommittee focused on faculty well-being. That group is collecting data by listening to the faculty and conducting surveys to better inform interventions. Another facet of her first priority is tackling the opioid epidemic. When Naloxone, the opioid-overdose reversing nasal spray, became available without a prescription earlier this year, she advocated alongside student groups to make the medicine free on campus. Naloxone, known by the brand name Narcan, is now available in Odegaard Library and at Hall Health Center.

“I tell everybody about it,” Dougherty said. “But I’d like to see us run out of it. I’d like to see a huge demand for it, and a desire for people to get this medication, and keep it with them because they might be able to save someone’s life.”

Dougherty’s second priority is helping faculty better navigate conversations about difference. Students are demanding faculty members take positions on flashpoint issues, leaving little space for understanding and dialogue. Faculty members want to teach according to their expertise, honoring the UW’s principles of academic freedom.

“It’s a really, really difficult place, right now, to be a faculty member at any public university. It is just tough work,” Dougherty said. “And these eruptions in differences, in ideas and the way we express them are causing all kinds of stress and controversy.”

Dougherty, in partnership with Serio and Mike Townsend, secretary of the faculty, are working on ways to navigate these challenges. One approach is to adopt the Okanagan Charter, a framework that outlines an “aspirational journey toward campus wellbeing utilizing a comprehensive settings and systems-level approach.”  The team is evaluating the fit for the UW. Another approach, Dougherty said, is to offer faculty members small group workshops designed to help bring our faculty together to talk through difference.

“We should be able to have open dialogue and discourse about differences in ideas, philosophies, cultures, backgrounds, and not feel personally attacked or feel afraid,” she said.

In addition to her two personal priorities, Dougherty is leading the senators as they deliberate on several issues. Faculty Senate leadership this year is working on policy and legislative reforms to:

  • Improve and update dispute resolution policies;
  • Revise merit and promotion practices, connecting performance with compensation;
  • Evaluate faculty compensation and add transparency to better support equity;
  • Identify more ways to collaborate across all three UW campuses; and
  • Welcome and onboard Serio, the new provost.

For more information on the Faculty Senate, see its website. Reach Dougherty at cindyd@uw.edu.