W. Houston Dougharty ’83

As a lifelong learner, W. Houston Dougharty ’83 considers himself lucky to have figured out how to “never have to leave college,” a feat he’s achieved by spending 40 years working in higher education.

Dougharty, now finishing his career as vice president for student affairs at Hofstra University on Long Island, New York, is this year’s recipient of the Puget Sound Professional Achievement Award. He and the other award winners were slated to be honored during Summer Reunion Weekend, June 9–11.

Dougharty has worked in student affairs for eight different schools, large and small, all across the country. “It’s about learning, it’s about growth, it’s about exploration, it’s about becoming oneself,” he says. “It’s an environment that helps people identify all of their intersecting identities and then grow into them.” Plus, he says, “What other workplace has sports teams to cheer for, concerts and plays to go to?”

Dougharty’s abiding affection for the college experience began with his own. The son of a Southern Baptist minister, he grew up the youngest of four in Santa Fe, N.M. After high school, he decided to attend Puget Sound sight unseen, making him the first member of his family to go to school outside the Southwest—“one of the best choices I ever could have made,” he says. He studied English literature, participated in ASUPS, and promptly caught the theater bug, performing in more than a dozen shows as an undergraduate in addition to professional productions with the Tacoma Actors Guild.

In the spring of his senior year, he joined the Puget Sound admission staff, staying a decade and igniting his interest in working with students. Dougharty has since worked as the associate dean of students at Puget Sound and Iowa State University, dean of students at Lewis and Clark, and vice president of student affairs at Grinnell College and now Hofstra, among other stops.

Dougharty considers relationships fundamental to the work he does. “It’s all about being curious about people: about their lives, what they’ve experienced, what they want to experience, and what role you can play in providing an environment of curiosity,” he says.

Still a theater buff, Dougharty attends four or five live shows a week, often bringing students and alums along with him. He estimates that he’s seen more than 1,200 shows in the nine years he’s lived in New York.

His faithful rescue pug, Otis, has become something of a Hofstra campus celebrity. “If you’re on a college campus and you’re worried that people won’t talk to you, bring a baby or a dog,” he says, laughing. “You will have no trouble getting people to hang out with you.”

To this day, Dougharty credits Puget Sound with sparking his insatiable appetite for learning and for his career in higher education.

“Puget Sound changed my life and its trajectory in immeasurable ways, for which I'm forever thankful,” he says, “for giving me my closest friends and relationships, my love for the college experience, and my lifelong enthusiasm for learning, the arts, and having fun.”

Dougharty will retire this summer and move back to New Mexico with his partner, art therapist Kimberly Pine Dougharty ’90, and their son, Fen. Their daughter Allie is a social worker in New Orleans. Given his affinity for continuous learning, he’s not sure he will “ever really retire in kind of a classic way.” He plans to do some consulting and coaching in student affairs and higher ed. A self-professed “public radio nerd,” he was recently appointed to the board of NPR radio station KUNM. He’ll also stay active with alumni commitments at Puget Sound and Santa Fe Prep.

Dougharty says his connections to students have brought him life—sometimes quite literally. After he was diagnosed with a life-threatening kidney disease in 2018, dozens of friends, family members, and former students volunteered to donate a kidney for the transplant. In the end, a Hofstra alumna proved to be a match. She said that she’d aspired to become a vice president of student affairs since meeting Dougharty at orientation and quipped that even if she never did, at least her kidney could live out her dream.

Today, Dougharty is healthy again, grateful, and good-humored enough to crack a joke about the experience: “I never had the chance to get a degree from Hofstra,” he says. “But my kidney has two.” 

By Julianne Bell ’13