UAHuntsville names new Interim Chair for the Biology Department

By Margo Gray - bio | email

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - The University of Alabama Huntsville is taking another step to move past the campus tragedy by naming an interim chair for the biology department.

Dr. Debra Moriarity replaces Dr. Gopi Podila who was among the faculty members who were killed as a result of a shooting on the university's campus February 12, 2010.

Two other faculty members – Drs. Adriel Johnson and Maria Ragland Davis – also died in the shooting during a departmental meeting.

Two other professors and a staff assistant were injured in the shooting. Amy Bishop is accused of killing her colleagues.

Moriarity has stepped in as the chair of the department until the university can find a permanent one.

"I think God kept me alive that day, and I think that gives me the strength to go in there everyday and know that I am here for a reason and to keep on doing my job," said Dr. Moriarity.

"I won't lie to you. It is been hard to walk in there and go by the offices of the people you know who are just never going to be there," said Dr. Moriarity.

Moriarity has been a long-time member of the biological sciences faculty at UAHuntsville. She said her first priority as interim chair will be students.

"We are going to ensure that all courses required by our students are available this fall," she said. "This means having quality faculty, excellent advising and great research opportunities for every student enrolled in our department."

Nearly four months after the tragedy on campus, Moriarity has already seen signs of hope.

"There is a lot of closeness that has come out of it and looking at moving on and bringing in new students and new faculty is a positive side of it that I think we are all looking forward to," said Dr. Moriarity.

The process to hire visiting scientists to teach courses previously taught by the shooting victims is under way and is being led by biology professor Dr. Lynn Boyd. Those appointments should be completed within weeks.

Once those spots are filled, Moriarity said the next priority is the search for a new chair.

"We are going to conduct a thorough job search for a permanent chair," she said. "We are going to look for a biologist that has a national reputation. We need someone who will lead the department's activities in new exciting areas of biology and biotechnology. This department plays an important role in the development of Huntsville's biotechnology economy and we want to provide our students the opportunity to be part of that growth."

Moriarity said the university will work closely with the Hudson-Alpha Institute for Biotechnology to find the best person to chair the department.

At the same time, Moriarity said the department would be defining the job requirements for new permanent faculty to be hired.

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