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Ray L Watts

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Ray Watts

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Ray Lannom Watts December 18, 1953 (age 70) Birmingham, Alabama (

Movement Disorders, Third Edition

Alma mater
University of Alabama at Birmingham, Washington University School of Medicine

Ray Lannom Watts (born December 18, 1953) is the seventh president of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).


Ray L. Watts UAB Office of the President Ray L Watts MD


A Birmingham native and graduate of West End High School, Watts earned a bachelor's degree in engineering at UAB in 1976. Four years later, he graduated from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis as valedictorian of his class.

Watts completed a neurology residency, medical internship, and clinical fellowships at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, followed by a two-year medical staff fellowship at the National Institutes of Health. He is a member of American Neurological Association; American Academy of Neurology; Society for Neuroscience; Alpha Omega Alpha; Movement Disorders Society; International Brain Research Organization; Medical Association of State of Alabama; and the Alabama Academy of Neurology.

Before returning to UAB in 2003, he was part of a team that helped to create an internationally renowned research and clinical center for Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders at Emory University in Atlanta.

In 2010, Watts accepted the position of Senior Vice President and Dean of the School of Medicine at UAB, and later was named to the James C. Lee Jr. Endowed Chair. He then became UAB's seventh President in February 2013.

Watts was named chair of the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA) for 2016 and remains as chair in 2017 as the BBA focuses on the development of the city’s innovation district, known as “Innovate Birmingham.”

UAB Neurology

At UAB, Watts served as the John N. Whitaker Professor and Chairman of the Department of Neurology. There he led the development of an interdisciplinary research program aimed at translating scientific breakthroughs into promising new therapies for neurodegenerative diseases and played a key role in the establishment of the UAB Comprehensive Neuroscience Center. He also was named president of the University of Alabama Health Services Foundation.

Watts has co-edited three editions of “Movement Disorders: Neurologic Principles and Practice.” He has authored or co-authored more than 100 research articles which have been published in journals including Annals of Neurology, Cell Transplantation, Experimental Neurology, Human Molecular Genetics, the Journal of the American Medical Association, JAMA Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, Journal of Genomics, Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, Journal of Neuroscience, Journal of Neurosurgery, Movement Disorders, the New England Journal of Medicine, and Neurology.

In 2007, Ray Watts was the lead author of the paper "Randomized, blind, controlled trial of transdermal rotigotine in early Parkinson disease" published in January 2007 in the journal Neurology, and the second author of the paper "Transdermal Rotigotine Double-blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial in Parkinson Disease" published in May 2007 in Archives of Neurology (the first author, Jankovic, was the second author of the first published paper). The editor of Archives of Neurology, upon learning of the earlier publication, compared the two writings and deemed them to be "redundant publications...additional information [in the second publication] represents a minor contribution". The second paper cited the first paper in a late draft after questions about the methodology arose, but did not mention the similarity of the data . In response, the authors of the papers stated that they strongly disagreed with the editor's conclusions, and believe the focus of the two papers are different. The authors also say that the primary author was not aware of the acceptance of the earlier paper during submission of the second paper. The authors state that the Neurology paper was accepted October 24, 2006, and the Archives paper was submitted in December 2006. The authors did admit "in retrospect, we should have notified the Archives about the complementary article in Neurology" .

UAB Presidency

Upon taking office, Watts initiated the most comprehensive, campus-wide strategic planning process in UAB history. The plan comprised individual strategic plans from all of UAB’s schools as well as the UAB Honors College and UAB Athletics, and advanced the UAB Campus Master Plan for facilities. Watts said of the ongoing strategic planning process in May 2014, “Established institutional priorities, as well as those of individual schools, departments and service lines, will allow us to confidently invest most heavily in the programs and people that will best advance our mission — where the most impactful achievements and benefits will be realized for the greater good.”

In December 2014 UAB disbanded its football program and, as the rationale for the decision, Watts cited exorbitant operational costs and substantial investments that would be necessary to make UAB football financially sustainable. "While this will be a challenging transition for the UAB family, the financial picture made our decision very clear," Watts said. "We will not cut the current athletic budget, but in order to invest at least another $49 million to keep football over the next five years, we would have to redirect funds away from other critical areas of importance like education, research, patient care or student services." On January 15, 2015, a two-thirds majority of the UAB faculty senate voted no-confidence in the leadership of Ray Watts as president of the university. The resolution stated that "decisions by President Ray Watts were exercised in a manner that demonstrates no respect for, or commitment to, shared governance" and that changes in academic operations, faculty benefits, and the disbanding of the UAB Football, Bowling, and Rifle teams were examples of this. Additionally on March 23, 2015, UAB's National Alumni Society issued a statement of no confidence and demanded Watts' immediate resignation. On June 1, 2015, Watts announced steps would be taken to reinstate UAB football, rifle and bowling after campus and community leaders, the City of Birmingham and private donors pledged significant funds to reestablish and sustain the three programs. "The biggest single difference is we now have tangible commitments for additional support that we have never had before," Watts told reporters. "Without that additional support, we could not have maintained a balanced budget moving forward." An initiative called “Finish the Drive” began on August 18, 2015, to conduct further fundraising for UAB Athletics. UAB Football is scheduled to return to competition in the fall 2017 season.

As part of the UAB Campus Master Plan, UAB opened two new undergraduate-focused facilities in late 2015 and early 2016: a 714-bed freshman residence hall and the Hill Student Center. In his remarks at the grand opening celebration of the Hill Student Center in January 2016, Watts commented, “The new Hill Center is emblematic of the dramatic evolution of the UAB student experience over decades….It will be, for years to come, a dynamic hub of educational, social and cultural activity, at the very heart of a student experience that is second to none.” In late summer and fall 2017, groundbreaking ceremonies were held for a new Football Operations Complex, new School of Nursing building, and a new home for the Collat School of Business and Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. At the groundbreaking ceremony for the latter, Watts remarked, “By housing these two entities under the same roof, this facility will be a new home for innovation on our campus, and will play a future role in the growth of UAB and the growth of innovation and technology in Birmingham.”

In keeping with the institutional priorities established by the ongoing UAB Strategic Plan that Watts initiated in 2012, the university has made significant gains in education and research. In fall 2016, UAB achieved record overall enrollment of 19,535 students, with enrollment growth in every school and the Honors College. Later that fall, it was announced that UAB ranked 20th among public universities nationally in federal research funding with more than $516 in overall research expenditures, representing a $38 million increase in federally funded research from fiscal year 2013 to 2015. Internationally, UAB jumped 36 places to no. 162 overall in U.S. News & World Report’s 2017 “Best Global Universities,” ranking no. 68 for “citation impact.”

UAB’s research capacity and information technology infrastructure were greatly enhanced in fall 2016 by the installation of the most advanced supercomputer in Alabama. Soon after, UAB became the first university in the state to launch internet speeds of 100 gigabits per second, boosting available bandwidth by 10 times the previous capability and up to 10,000 times many standard home internet speeds. Watts said of these advances, “Our new capabilities will continue to attract and support top faculty, staff and students, make us more competitive to secure research funding, allow us to better care for our patients, and accelerate our world-changing discoveries.”

These advanced capabilities along with the new facilities enabled UAB to further develop novel undergraduate academic programs. Watts noted in his 2016 State of the University Address (Oct. 25, 2016), “We have built capacity….We continue to innovate around majors that we can uniquely provide because we have a world-class comprehensive university.” New majors in 2016 and 2017 include the state’s only B.A. in computer and information sciences (begun fall 2016), Genetics and Genomic Sciences (beginning fall 2017) and Immunology (beginning fall 2017), which is the only program of its kind in the Southeast and one of a handful nationwide.

In March 2017, UAB in partnership with HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology (Huntsville, AL) launched the Alabama Genomic Health Initiative to better meet health needs across the state. The project, funded by a $2 million appropriation from the Alabama legislature to UAB, supports one of the nation’s first statewide efforts to harness the power of genomic analysis to help identify those at high risk for a genetic disease, and provide a basis for continuing research into genetic contributors to health and disease. At a press conference announcing the partnership, Watts said, “This new initiative will help us begin to harness genomic capabilities by sequencing the genome of patients from every county in the state….[and it] will be truly transformative for the state of Alabama. It will also position us—UAB and HudsonAlpha—at the very vanguard of genomic science and personalized medicine not only in the United States but around the world.”


  • UAB Distinguished Alumni Award 2007
  • Castle Connolly America's Top Doctors 2004
  • Top Ten Doctors 2012
  • References

    Ray L. Watts Wikipedia

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