UAB's cultural strength comes from many shared accomplishments and the determination to achieve even greater things.
Good morning. I want to thank Chancellor Witt and the distinguished members of our Board of Trustees for this opportunity to update you on behalf of UAB faculty.

It is a privilege for me to serve as the Chair of Faculty and representative to this Board, particularly in such exciting and promising times for our university. This has been an outstanding year for UAB faculty, as we continue pushing the envelope in research and scholarship, mentoring talented young minds who are already making their own marks and earning prestigious honors, and helping this university to have a tremendous impact on our local and global community.

Our faculty are securing increasingly competitive research funding and top awards in their fields, as they conduct cutting-edge research across many disciplines…

  • You just heard President Watts speak of Sarah Parcak in the Department of Anthropology who recently won the TED Prize of $1 million awarded to a leading innovator or thought leader.
  • Discover Magazine cited a seminal research paper from the lab of David Sweatt, the Chair of Neurobiology, on epigenetic modulation of DNA as one of the top 100 stories of 2015 in an issue that highlighted the best in science in a range that spanned from space exploration to medicine, technology, paleontology to environment.
  • Gary Warner and other faculty in our one-of-a-kind cyber forensics center continue collaborating with the FBI, Homeland Security and industry partners to develop innovate new technologies for combating global cybercrime.

These and other faculty are carrying on—and building upon—a longtime culture of innovation and collaboration that has earned this university global renown for decades, and that culture continues to grow stronger.

That strength comes from many shared accomplishments and the determination to achieve even greater things, but—as with any university, organization or corporation—strength can come from struggle as well. Last year, my colleague Chad Epps, the then-Chair of Faculty, stood before you and expressed our lack of confidence with President Watts. The no-confidence resolution was a very difficult decision that faculty did not take lightly.

With this, though, I can report that the Senate and faculty remain committed to finding ways to weather the storm. President Watts’ actions over the past year demonstrate a desire to repair the damage and move forward. He has instituted regular meetings with the Faculty Senate Chair, has committed to visiting each of the academic units at least two times per year and has openly encouraged other members of senior administration to work collaboratively with faculty and other UAB constituents.

We are encouraged by the UAB President’s Liaison Committee that Dr. Watts established and are confident that it has open lines of communication with the Board, Faculty and Community at large.

Even with the willingness to change, we have, in the past year, continued to experience rushed decisions that lack the benefit of shared governance. We have brought these to the attention of senior administration and stand cautiously optimistic that the culture will continue to improve in coming months and years. We all want the same thing: for UAB to be the very best, knowing we must do it together.

Through this period, we appreciate members of the Board of Trustees reaching out to faculty leadership to begin a dialogue that helps advance our institution. That gesture was well received and we look forward to ways of continuing that dialogue in 2016.

Now a very promising new day is upon us, and I am proud, positive and hopeful about our working relationship with the UAB administration and, you, the Board of Trustees. UAB faculty are beginning to collaborate more effectively with administration and are working towards a true spirit of shared governance. Effective communication remains the key to our continued progress. By continuing to increase the levels of inclusiveness and transparency, we can be more unified than ever in our mission and excel like never before.

I could not be prouder to be part of this faculty and this university. The term “world-class” is probably over-used but in UAB’s case it applies quite literally. Two recent rankings put UAB among the top 1 percent of world universities. For decades, top faculty from around the globe have come to Birmingham, Alabama, to be part of our intensely collaborative culture.

Our faculty are here to continue that tradition, to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We are here to bring our own passion and expertise to bear on UAB’s leadership in many different fields, and to educate the leaders of tomorrow. In short, we came here to discover and teach knowledge that will change our world, and that is what we strive to do daily.

I offer my sincere gratitude to the Board and UAB administration for your continued efforts in supporting the faculty at UAB and all that we can accomplish together.

Thank you.

Alecia Gross
Chair, UAB Faculty Senate

Faculty News

  • Health Literacy Partnership of Alabama established
    Health Literacy Partnership of Alabama established
    Governor Robert Bentley has signed an executive order establishing the initiative to improve the health literacy of Alabamians, and UAB faculty will play an important role.

    health literacy signingAlabama Governor Robert Bentley signs an Executive Order establishing the Health Literacy Partnership of Alabama in his office at the State Capitol in Montgomery on Wednesday, April 20, 2016. UAB faculty members Conan Davis, Ann Gakumo and Joy Deupree are at left. (Photo courtesy of the Governor's Office.)Gov. Robert Bentley announced April 26 that he had signed an executive order establishing the Health Literacy Partnership of Alabama.

    The Health Literacy Partnership of Alabama, created by Executive Order 18, will recommend to the governor ways to improve the health literacy of Alabamians. Recommendations may take the form of regulatory or statutory changes, with initial recommendations due before the start of the 2017 regular session of the Alabama Legislature.

    “It is vitally important that people understand their health care needs and how they are treated. This reduces chronic illness and in turn lowers overall health care costs,” Bentley said. “This partnership is important to providing the resources needed by the people of Alabama to ensure they know how to properly seek treatment for any health issues they may have.”

    Joy Deupree, an assistant professor in the UAB School of Nursing and Robert Wood Johnson executive nurse fellow, will chair the Partnership.

    “From diagnosis to medication management and discharge instructions, patients are at risk for poor outcomes because they often do not understand how to use the information," Deupree said. “The support of the governor to establish a meaningful initiative to address health literacy disparities in Alabama is an important development for the health and economic future of our state. I am deeply grateful for his commitment to improve health care outcomes in our state.”

    The Partnership comprises members from health care-focused agencies and organizations across Alabama, including four other UAB faculty members:

    • Nancy E. Dunlap, M.D., professor emerita of medicine
    • Conan Davis, DMD, assistant dean for Community Collaborations and Public Health, UAB School of Dentistry
    • C. Ann Gakumo, assistant professor, UAB School of Nursing; Robert Wood Johnson nurse faculty scholar
    • Kathleen Ladner, adjunct associate professor at UAB School of Nursing
  • UAB driving simulator lab has national debut live on TODAY
    UAB driving simulator lab has national debut live on TODAY
    Cutting-edge technology and research brings national attention to UAB.
    news today play btnClick the image above to play TODAY show segmentNBC’s TODAY show traveled to Birmingham to hear from UAB College of Arts and Sciences distracted driving expert Despina Stavrinos, Ph.D.

    On April 29, TODAY show correspondent Jeff Rossen reported live from UAB’s Translational Research for Injury Prevention Lab about the dangers of using social media and texting while driving.

    The TRIP Lab recently became home to the world’s first SUV simulator, made possible through donations from Honda Manufacturing of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Transportation.

    With the new simulator, UAB researchers hope to facilitate solutions and best practices in motor-vehicle-related safety and crash prevention, addressing the major public health problem of highway and traffic-related injuries and death. 

  • Debunking digital eyestrain and blue light myths
    Debunking digital eyestrain and blue light myths
    Adam Gordon, O.D., discusses blue light, including the lack of clinical evidence in advertisements overstating dangers, as well as the effects of blue light on sleep and eye discomfort.

    Nearly 90 percent of adults use digital devices for two or more hours per day, according to The Vision Council’s 2016 Digital Eye Strain Report, exposing consumers to blue light that some suggest is dangerous.

    Adam Gordon, O.D., clinical associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry, believes overuse and exposure to blue light may lead to eyestrain and focusing problems, but does not appear to cause long-term harm, eye disease or damage to the retina.

    “Lens manufacturers have jumped on the band wagon of harmful blue light and are creating products that they claim will protect your eyes from macular degeneration or other eye diseases,” Gordon said. “Blue light more often causes eye discomfort and annoyance than physical harm. It is important to understand what blue light is, where the accusations of hazard and threat of blue light come from, and how it truly affects your vision.”NYCU eyes1

    What is blue light?

    Part of the visible light spectrum, blue light is the high-energy light just beyond the potentially harmful ultraviolet light.

    Blue light is normally transmitted through the eye to the retina, because it is visible light that our eyes are designed to receive. Light is visible to the eye and triggers the visual process that leads to vision and sight.

    A large body of experimental and clinical evidence over 20-30 years shows that UV light can be harmful to the eye and contribute to diseases such as cataracts, pterygia or growths on the front of the eye, and perhaps macular degeneration. Most eyeglass and sunglass lenses and many contact lenses have been developed to block out UV light.

    Compact fluorescent light bulbs, high-intensity headlights and other LED lighting do emit higher blue light energy than more traditional incandescent light bulbs, causing excess exposure to blue light than we received before. Digital devices such as TV screens, computer monitors, cellphones and tablets also emit significant levels of blue light. The higher levels of blue light place more strain on the eye’s focusing system than do printed materials. nycu eyes 2

    Is blue light harmful to the eyes?

    Digital eyestrain refers to blurred vision and other symptoms such as burning, stinging or tearing of the eyes associated with prolonged use of digital devices. Digital eyestrain leads to dry eyes and puts strain on the muscles that help the eye focus. When staring at a digital device, the eye does not blink as frequently, and this causes faster disruption and evaporation of the tear film that protects the ocular surface. When the surface of the eye begins to dry, irritation is felt, such as burning and stinging.

    When viewing digital devices, the eyes are looking at a pixelated image that is rapidly alternating or flickering multiple times per second. It is much harder for the visual system to maintain a sharp or consistent focus on an electronic image compared to a hard image.

    There are numerous eyeglass lenses now available to selectively block out the high-energy blue light that contributes to the fatigue and strain placed on the eye’s focusing system. For people who spend significant hours on a computer or other digital device, these lenses may provide some relief and comfort.

    To further maintain comfortable vision while using digital devices, it is important to use the 20/20/20 rule. For every 20 minutes of digital device use, look away for 20 seconds focusing on something 20 feet away. Using artificial tear or lubricant drops may also relieve some symptoms of dryness.

    There is some early laboratory research using animal models that suggests excessive blue light exposure can damage some sensitive cell layers of the retina. There is no clinical evidence at the present time that links blue light exposure from digital devices to any pathology or disease of the eye.

    “Some advertisements from lens manufacturers are misleading consumers to believe that blue light from digital devices will cause serious harm to their eyes,” Gordon said. “Products created to block out blue light minimize eyestrain when using computers and digital devices, but have not been tested or shown to prevent any type of eye disease.”

    Macular degeneration and other eye diseases in relation to blue light is the great unknown. The main risk factors for these eye diseases are age, genetic factors, UV light, smoking and poor nutrition more than digital device use.nycu eyes 3

    Benefits of blue light

    One of the physiological benefits of visual light, specifically blue light, is the relationship with our internal circadian clock. As part of the sleep/wake cycle, blue light triggers the suppression of melatonin in the brain, keeping us awake. This tells us when we are tired or should be awake.

    “We are not designed to be using our phones and tablets 6 inches from our faces, particularly when we are lying in bed with the TV on,” Gordon said. “This is suppressing the melatonin, making it more difficult for a good night’s rest and REM sleep.”  

    Turn off your devices one to two hours before going to bed to trigger the release of melatonin, giving it a chance to increase just before dozing off into deep sleep.

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