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James Tracy named new vice chancellor for research

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas will soon have a new leader for its research enterprise.

James Tracy, former vice president of research at the University of Kentucky and professor of molecular and cellular biochemistry at the UK College of Medicine, has been named KU’s new vice chancellor for research. The move is effective April 1. 

“As the state’s flagship research university and a member of the Association of American Universities, the University of Kansas has a mission to advance society through discovery and innovation,” said Jeffrey S. Vitter, provost and executive vice chancellor. "The creative works of our faculty, staff and students advance the frontiers of knowledge, provide new insights into the human condition and spawn exciting new technologies that drive future economic development. Jim Tracy has an outstanding background in university research administration, and he is a perfect fit to expand and energize scholarly achievement across all academic disciplines at KU. We look forward to great things under his leadership.”

Tracy succeeds Steve Warren, who served as vice chancellor for research for seven years before stepping down in May 2014 to return to full-time teaching and research. Mary Lee Hummert, vice provost for faculty development, has served as interim vice chancellor for research and will continue in that role until Tracy’s arrival.

As vice chancellor, Tracy will help drive KU’s efforts to facilitate innovation, creative activity, discovery and the application and dissemination of knowledge across all academic disciplines. He will oversee 10 research centers, two state surveys, two affiliated centers and a number of core research laboratories across the Lawrence campus. He will also serve as president of the KU Center for Research Inc., the nonprofit research foundation that administers research grants and other external awards. He will share overall responsibility for KU Innovation & Collaboration, KU’s bicampus technology commercialization office. He will work closely with the chancellor and senior leaders at KU, including KU Medical Center campus’ vice chancellor for research.

Additionally, Tracy will hold an academic appointment with tenure in the Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology in the KU School of Pharmacy.

“I am excited and honored to join the University of Kansas,” Tracy said. “The primary role of a chief research officer is to provide a climate in which discovery and learning can most effectively take place. It is, after all, the faculty, staff and students who fulfill the institution’s mission and are responsible for its reputation.

“I am a strong advocate for research and creative activity in its many forms across the disciplines,” he said. “This ranges from acquiring new, shared instrumentation to supporting programs in social theory and fine arts. I look forward to helping the university and its researchers achieve their individual and collective goals in a way that benefits the state of Kansas and society.”

Tracy was vice president for research at the University of Kentucky from 2007-14. In that role, he oversaw the operation of UK’s $360 million research enterprise and provided senior leadership for various research initiatives. He led a team to expand UK’s partnerships with private industry and coordinated the activities of various administrative units, such as sponsored programs administration, proposal development and federal relations. He oversaw the office responsible for commercialization of university research, along with UK’s on-campus business incubator. He has served as special assistant for research compliance at UK since April 2014.

Before joining UK, Tracy served for 24 years in progressively more responsible administrative positions and faculty roles at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Prior to that, he served as a research associate for seven years at Case Western Reserve University. He earned his bachelor’s of science in chemistry from Bowling Green State University and his doctorate in biochemistry from Purdue University. View his full CV here.

Tracy takes over a KU research enterprise that has made impressive strides in recent years. During  the past decade, KU has increased its externally sponsored research funding to record levels, improved its national research rankings, and secured more diverse sources of funding — all against the backdrop of federal research funding constraints and a sluggish national economy.

During that time, KU has also articulated a vision for its role in economic development based on research and its commercialization, evidenced by the creation of KU Innovation & Collaboration and the Bioscience & Technology Business Center. There are now 28 active startup companies based on KU technologies, and since 2010 nearly a dozen out-of-state companies have relocated to Kansas to partner with KU. KU also has 100 active license agreements with companies using KU technologies.

Tracy visited Lawrence last month to meet with the KU search committee and to deliver a public presentation (video here) titled, “Strategies for Raising Research Stature during an Era of Declining Funding.”

“I want to acknowledge the search committee and its chair, Dean Danny Anderson, for their excellent work,” Vitter said. “I especially want to thank Mary Lee Hummert, who has stepped in and provided outstanding leadership as the interim vice chancellor for research. Her efforts, along with those in the Office of Research, have enabled us to maintain the momentum established under Steve Warren’s leadership and have positioned us to reach even greater heights once Jim begins his work. Certainly, universities nationwide face challenges in terms of federal funding levels for research. That said, we are positioned well to continue doing great things here at KU.”