Juan Sanchez

Juan Sanchez, vice president for research, will step down from his position in August of this year. 

“It has been a pleasure and a privilege for me to serve this great university of ours as VP for research,” Sanchez said.

Before he started at UT in 1989 in the mechanical engineering department, Sanchez was a materials science professor at Columbia University from 1987–1989 and a renowned researcher worldwide.

During his service as vice president of research, Sanchez established the Office of Research Support to increase faculty research support, extended the University’s research collaboration with the private sector and contributed to the tenfold increase in revenues for technological commercialization, according to the Office of the Provost.

“Dr. Sanchez has led the research enterprise at UT with distinction, and I am grateful for his leadership,” said Gregory Fenves, executive vice president and provost and next UT president, in a statement. “UT Austin has developed a worldwide reputation for successes in research and scholarship by faculty, students and research staff with support from the Office of the Vice President for Research.”

J. Tinsley Oden, associate vice president for research, said Sanchez has raised the school’s reputation as a research university. Under Sanchez, the Texas Advanced Computing Center, Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences, Bureau of Economic Geology, Applied Research Laboratories and several other UT research units have become top research enterprises in their respective areas in the world, according to Oden.

“His remarkable work as vice president of research will have a lasting impact on UT’s research image and record,” Oden said. “He has been an extraordinary administrator, an indefatigable worker, an international spokesman and advocate for UT-Austin and a superb manager during those years.” 

Sanchez will go on to lead a research program as a faculty member, as well as teach in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. The search for his replacement will commence in the next few weeks.

In the future of research, the University will build on Sanchez’s successes by expanding opportunities in areas such as medicine and health care to advance the University’s mission to create knowledge, according to Fenves.

“He certainly will leave the office of the [vice president for research] in sound shape and well-positioned to continue its growth and service to UT and the state,” Oden said.

Sanchez’s official last day will be August 31.

The Technology Commercialization Committee published a report Wednesday that discussed ways to improve the commercialization of technology developed at the University.

The committee was formed based on recommendations produced in “Smarter Systems for a Greater UT,” a report compiled by a group of 13 alumni and business leaders to examine the University’s business operations.

The committee’s recommendations included creating a web-based portal to allow people not affiliated with UT to benefit from its “intellectual capital” and adding two licensing associate positions to the Office of Technology Commercialization to increase the capacity of its licensing team.

Juan Sanchez, chairman of the committee and vice president for research, said in an email that the licensing team is responsible for protecting and promoting intellectual property developed by faculty and students. 

The report also recommended the creation of a commercialization and entrepreneurship council, which would consist of deans from schools and colleges whose faculty members are engaged in technological research and entrepreneurship.

“Although the primary role of the council will be to provide strategic guidance in commercialization and entrepreneurship activities across campus, it will also develop mechanisms for avoiding, decreasing or resolving actual and potential conflicts relating to University commercialization and entrepreneurship activities,” the report stated.

According to the report, it will also be the council’s role to facilitate ideas and innovative thinking.

“The intention of the recommendations is not to centralize entrepreneurial activities, which at present are quite healthy across campus,” Sanchez said.

On the heels of two controversies involving conflicts of interest in research in the past year, UT has amended its financial conflict of interest and objectivity in research policy. 

Juan Sanchez, vice president for research, spoke at length about changes in UT’s policy at a Faculty Council meeting Monday. Sanchez said the changes were not the result of any action taken by UT but instead were instituted by the UT System. 

“The change in policy was prompted by changes in regulations by the Public Health Services, which include the National Institutes of Health, and by the guidelines issued by the UT System,” Sanchez said. “No one at UT-Austin had a say in this new policy, but I would imagine the justification used on the federal level was used by our regents, to protect the proper use of university and federal resources.” 

In July, a study on gay parenting by sociology professor Mark Regnerus garnered controversy after critics pointed out that the study was funded by The Witherspoon Institute and The Bradley Foundation, two conservative groups. In December, the director of UT’s Energy Institute, Raymond Orbach, resigned and geology professor Chip Groat retired after it was discovered that Groat published a study that found no link between hyrdaulic fracturing and water contamination, but did not disclose he sat on the board of directors of a drilling company.

The new conflict of interest policy differs from its predecessor in two main ways. Potential conflicts of interest will be determined by an independent official, as opposed to faculty members themselves. Additionally, the new policy has an extended scope, applying to all research irrespective of funding source, while the old regulations applied only to externally funded research.

Several faculty members expressed hesitation about privacy issues at the meeting. In a question submitted in advance of Sanchez’ presentation, government professor Daron Shaw stated his deep concerns about the implications of the personal financial disclosure required by the new policy.

“This is the most egregious, chilling policy UT has adopted since I’ve been here,” Shaw wrote. 

Jody Jensen, kinesiology and psychology professor, also expressed concern about the nature of the financial disclosure forms. Jensen said the fear was that the in-depth personal finances of UT faculty members would be publicly available via open records requests. 

“There is a growing culture of what we do being searchable and open to the scrutiny of those with good intentions and those without,” Jensen said. “It seems fair to me that people with conflicts of interest should disclose, but it doesn’t seem appropriate that all faculty should have these kinds of records — seeing that this should be available to all who want to snoop.”

Sanchez said it was important to clarify that UT faculty financial disclosures would not be accessible via an online database. 

“Where is the mandate that this information be publicly searchable?” Sanchez said. “There is no such mandate, and there is no such publicly accessible database. The database will be kept as a university record, and in most cases, only open records requests will make the information public.”

UT has appointed Dan Sharp as the director of the Office of Technology Commercialization after he took the lead as interim director a year ago.

Sharp became interim director after previous director Richard Miller resigned because of a conflict of interest by licensing UT technology to companies in which he held stock.

The office assesses discoveries and inventions made by UT researchers and faculty in order to pursue patents and analyze commercial applications and potential markets to help products succeed in the market place. The office helps connect theoretical research and start-up business ideas to products and services with industry and investors.

“Sometimes there is a bit of misconception about what we are commercializing,” Sharp said. “People may think we’re using already-made products or prototypes. The majority of the time we’re commercializing an invention that exists only in a lab notebook or a scientific journal.”

Sharp is a alumnus of the UT Cockrell School of Engineering and Lyndon B. Johnson School of Law. Sharp said that his experience as an intellectual property lawyer prior to joining the office influenced his focus as interim director.

“We’re going to continue what we’ve been doing over the past year focusing on education for faculty and researchers across the board, protecting intellectual property, obtaining quality patents and licensing technology out to the private sector, using the research that is being done at UT for the public good.”

Sharp said his time as interim director helped build a network of contacts throughout campus that will be valuable in his new permanent position.

Juan Sanchez, the vice president for research, said Sharp’s year as interim director was a positive experience and as director, Sharp will continue to enhance the work done to commercialize researchers’ work.

“I have appointed him to the post with the conviction that he will raise commercialization at UT Austin to the next level,” Sanchez said. “His knowledge and experience in intellectual property protection and licensing has improved both the quality of our patent filings and the agility and terms of our licensing deals. He is thorough, knowledgeable and communicates extremely well with UT’s internal and external stakeholders.”

In cooperation with the office, Sharp said the College of Pharmacy has developed UT’s highest grossing patent on technology to make tamper-proof Oxycontin. M. Lynn Crismon, dean of the college, said Sharp has made connections with faculty during his time as interim director.

“Mr. Sharp has reached out to us and he has been positive in his interactions,” Crismon said. “He truly appears committed to positively facilitating faculty efforts to license intellectual property. He has experience in preparing patents for submission, and he is well prepared to assume the duties as director of OTC.”

Sharp said besides commercializing products and ideas his vision for the office includes symposiums with faculty and researchers.

“There will be lectures focused on intellectual property or technology licensing but we also try to address the issues that are unique to the academic environment,” Sharp said. “We also want to hear feedback from the faculty.”

Published on January 14, 2013 as "Sharp promoted to director of tech office". 

The cause of an equipment malfunction that resulted in a gas explosion at a University-leased building in Leander, Texas is still unclear, Juan Sanchez, vice president for research, said.

Tuesday morning, researchers at the facility on Bagdad Rd. were conducting high-velocity projectile impact experiments when a piece of equipment malfunctioned, resulting in a gas explosion. Sanchez said officials believe the piece of equipment that failed was part of a projectile launcher, but the exact cause is still unknown.

“We obviously will conduct an in-depth investigation by UT scientists and external scientists to try and make a calculation of what was the root cause,” Sanchez said.

After the explosion, the roof’s building detached and flying debris hit a passing car. The driver suffered minor injuries and was transported to St. David’s Round Rock Medical Center, but no other injuries were reported. Sanchez said the building was not structurally sound to contain the gas explosion.

“All other safety measures have been taken, the staffers and researchers inside the building were not injured,” Sanchez said. “But the building itself could not contain this fracture.”

Sanchez said the University has discontinued the experiment that caused the explosion, and the building will likely remain operational.

“There are other activities at the site of the building that are small scale experiments,” Sanchez said. “Those do not offer any risk and will probably continue.

Point-counterpoint: Campus-wide tobacco ban

Editor’s note: On Feb. 9, Pat Clubb, vice president for University operations, and Juan Sanchez, vice president for research, sent a University-wide email alerting the campus community that the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas will no longer fund research at institutions that do not have a tobacco-free campus policy. University administrators are expected to reach a decision on whether to impose a campus-wide tobacco ban by March 1.

UT recently sent out a mass email telling us all that we will be converting to a tobacco-free campus in the next couple of months. The reasoning? Money, of course. In order to qualify for more than $80 million in new research grants — and to maintain more than $30 million in grants we already have — from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, the University must become smoke-free.

I feel like I should be jumping on an anti-administration, anti- “the man telling me what to do with my own body” kind of rant. But I can’t.

The first thing I thought about when I heard about the ban was an experience I had freshman year. I had a one-hour break in my schedule, so I used to go to the Honors Quad, pull out my book and lay in the sunshine and read. Birds would chirp, squirrels would frolic and boys would play frisbee; it was a quintessentially collegiate scene.

But my tradition was prematurely ended with the arrival of a man and his cigar. He would light up, and the breeze changed from a welcome coolant to a harbinger of repulsiveness. Even 20 feet away, I could still smell it. My study spot was ruined.

So while my freshman-year self is rejoicing at imminent punishment for the cigar smoker and all his foul-breathed brethren, I can’t help but wonder: Is it fair? Just because I hate the smell of cigarette smoke, is it fair for the University to make it so no one can smoke? As a self-professed “crazy liberal,” don’t I believe that people should have the freedom to choose what they do with their own body (as long as it doesn’t harm others)?

Sure, there’s the issue of secondhand smoke, but if it’s outside, we can just do what I did freshmen year when confronted with cigarette smoke: walk away. And how can I judge faculty and staff that work hard all day at their jobs? Shouldn’t they be able to enjoy a cigarette during their break without having to walk several blocks to get off campus?

But faculty members that smoke are adults who are used to going to restaurants, visiting libraries and using public means transportation that are smoke-free. Plus, millions of other adults work in tobacco-free environments across the country.

The biggest worry I have is whether letting UT take away this choice from us will be the first step toward metaphorically Patriot Act-ing away other freedoms as well. What if UT decided to stop selling sodas and shut down Wendy’s and Taco Bell because the food is too unhealthy? When it’s Frosties instead of cigarettes on the line, all of a sudden, I’m a lot more upset about losing a freedom.

But here’s the thing: The freedom to smoke cigarettes is essentially the freedom to participate in an activity that slowly, painfully and most assuredly kills you from the inside out. And while Frosties aren’t exactly healthy, they will not turn your lungs black or require you to get a hole drilled in your throat so you can continue breathing.

Many things are carcinogenic or unhealthy for you, but usually only if they’re used in excess, like drinking alcohol, eating fatty foods and using the microwave.

Every single time you smoke a cigarette, it’s bad for you. There’s something profoundly disturbing to me about a university that decides to stand idly by and watch young people in the prime of their life, or any people for that matter, throw away their future health and vitality with tobacco.

Even though it pains me to be on the side of the establishment, big money, Student Government, the administration and poor spelling (for anyone who saw the University-wide email), I firmly support our University’s decision to adopt a policy that ultimately cherishes the health and well-being of our student body above all else — even if it wasn’t decided for that reason.

Taylor is a Plan II and rhetoric and writing senior.

The Association of University Technology Managers surveyed a variety of institutions whose research led to the creation of new companies in the fiscal year of 2010. UT Austin did not score high on the survey.

The Association of University of Technology Managers administers an annual survey that captures the nation’s annual commercialization success, said Jack Brittain, vice president for Technology Venture Development at the University of Utah. The University of Utah has had the highest number of startup companies for the past two years. MIT ranked second with 17 startups, BYU had 13, Columbia and Cornell both had 12, Johns Hopkins and Purdue had 11 each and Carnegie Mellon and the University of Michigan had 10, according to the press release.

The University of Texas system, which includes a total of nine campuses, saw 33 startups in the 2010 fiscal year. However, the startups were ranked per campus, so UT Austin’s average was well below other universities.

“As a leading research university, UT research facilities are focused on creating good, successful companies, rather than focused on the number of research companies we can create,” said Juan Sanchez, vice president for research at UT said. “Don’t assume that just because Utah has created 18 startups in the last year that they are all great companies.”

The survey covers universities, research hospitals and independent research institutes, Brittain said.

“Over 300 institutions report annual results through this survey, including all the major U.S. and Canadian research universities,” Brittain said.

According to the Office of Technology Commercialization’s website, UT has seen the creation of 59 startups over the last eight years, and within the last fiscal year, UT Austin’s research has led to 12 research company startups, more than any other Texas university.

One similarity between the University of Utah and UT is that they both have separate programs to commercialize their research, Sanchez said. UT houses the Office of Technology of Commercialization, and the University of Utah has Tech Ventures, which includes their own Technology Communication Office, he said.

The University of Utah has seen many internal improvements to its system to become the university with the most research startup companies.

“Our major focus was on being an active participant in technology,” said Bryan Ritchie, executive director at the University of Utah. “We’ve added additional services such as finding appropriate teams to carry out these company endeavors, and getting enough funding to support the technology research.”

The University of Utah receives about $300 million a year federally, and about $50 million a year through sponsorship, Ritchie said. The university receives about a third of the funding of top universities such as MIT, Washington and Johns Hopkins. UT Austin gets about $650 million a year, Sanchez said.

“What’s great is that the University of Utah has created an entirely separate organization which is responsible for the commercialization of research,” said Zachary Miles, an associate director for the TCO at the University of Utah said. “Beginning around 2006, we focused more on the commercialization of research because there were some great ideas out there but nothing was being done with them.

Utah saw the creation of its first startup research company in 1970, and since then, 80 to 90 percent of research startups from the University of Utah are still active, Ritchie said.

“We can’t credit Utah’s success to one specific group or person,” Ritchie said. “Our president of the time, Michael Young, put a focus on commercialization and venture development, and with the culture of entrepreneurship and faculty members being awarded for commercialization, lots of moving parts came together to get us here.

Printed on Thursday, December 1, 2011 as: UT scores low on company startup survey

A new report by former UT System employee Rick O’Donnell divides the University’s professors into categories based on their teaching loads versus the amount of external funding they bring in, fueling the controversy about higher education.

O’Donnell, who received a $70,000 settlement after threatening to sue to the UT System Board of Regents, authored the report in which professors fall into five categories: “Dodgers,” “coasters,” “sherpas,” “pioneers” and “stars.”

Most professors at the University fall under “dodgers” and “coasters” who are considered the least productive faculty, according to the report. “Sherpas” and “stars” bear the greatest teaching loads and bring in more external funding than “coasters” and “dodgers.” “Pioneers” have the lowest teaching load, with an average of 65 students per year, and “stars” teach the most students, with an average of 503 per year.

O’Donnell said the purpose of the new report is to spur discussion about higher education and help institutions become more productive by reducing cost and improving the quality of education. According to the report, UT has slightly more than 3,000 professors, of which 1,784 are “dodgers” whose teaching costs exceed the amount of money they bring back to the University.

“At UT Austin, there are 1,784 faculty members who consume 54 percent of instructional costs but teach only 27 percent of the student hours and generate no external funding,” according to the report.

O’Donnell said 20 percent of the University’s professors are bringing in 90 percent of the external research as shown by the faculty data released by the UT System in July. He said the University can save up to $573 million if it eliminates the “dodgers” and puts more emphasis on teaching rather than research.

“If you ask the public, 87 percent say the primary purpose of universities is to teach,” O’Donnell told The Daily Texan after the report came out.

Texas Coalition for Higher Education responded to O’Donnell’s report in a press release and said he does not offer a new perspective. The coalition started as a way to address growing criticism of research at tier one institutions. The controversy became public in the spring with growing interest in a report from the Center for College Affordability and Texas Public Policy Foundation’s and Gov. Rick Perry’s support of the “Seven Breakthrough Solutions” — both suggest separating teaching and research budgets and eliminating “excessive” academic research.

“[The report] is a dance remix of a bad song,” said JJ Baskin, a UT alumnus who serves on the executive committee of the coalition. “It doesn’t appear that there is any new framework that’s helping to advance the discussion.”

Baskin said the report breaks down the professors’ productivity in numbers and degrades their value by leaving out a lot of context. He said most research is supported by endowments, as well as philanthropic efforts of the University and community investments. The report is misleading because it does not paint the full picture, he said.

“Frankly, it is insulting to the professors at UT to be categorized that way,” he said.

O’Donnell said some factors for productivity might be missing from his analysis because administrators have failed to show transparency in tracking research dollars. The information about where the money comes from and how it is used is not easily accessible to public, he said.

Vice President of Research Juan Sanchez said most research investment is from external funding. Research brought in $642 million to the University in 2010, mostly from federal grants and state and private agencies, Sanchez said. The threat to eliminate research undermines the future of students who would not be as prepared to enter the job market as they would be while doing research at the University, he said.

Grant Willson, chemical engineering and biochemistry professor, said he cannot imagine a university without research. He said he teaches a freshman seminar every semester, and it takes him about five hours to prepare presentations and handouts for each lecture. Additionally, he leads an interdisciplinary research group that studies organic materials. Most professors are as devoted to teaching as they are to research, he said.

“The combination of the two is quite interesting,” Willson said. “They will not succeed in making me feel guilty about doing research.”

Printed on 07/21/2011 as: Report divides UT professors into categories based on work

Editor’s Note: This story is part of an ongoing series to explore the impact of UT’s research on the University and the state.

Research funding brings twice as much revenue to UT as state appropriations, and officials said maintaining high standards for research is necessary to avoid greater budget challenges in the face of state cuts.

The state allocated $318 million for the academic year 2010-11, while research brought in $642 million in mostly federal and out-of-state grants, said Vice President for Research Juan Sanchez. He said research funding is used to pay salaries, maintain facilities and buy equipment and supplies.

“In fact, we bring in more federal research funding than Berkeley [University],” he said.

Research revenue is used to pay the salaries of graduate students and faculty who contribute to the local and regional economy by paying taxes and spending money, Sanchez said, adding that research is entirely financially self-sustaining.

“Fundamentally, it allows us to sustain an intellectual environment that will be attractive to high quality faculty and students,” he said.

The only way the University can compete for more federal grant funding is by retaining top talent faculty and students, Sanchez said. Students and faculty choose UT because it offers excellent opportunities for research and discovering new things, he said.

President William Powers Jr. said in an email Wednesday that the $92 million in cuts means state appropriations will fund 13.3 percent of UT’s budget in the next biennium, compared to 14 percent in 2010-2011. This will require the University to change the way it uses its money, he said. UT has been preparing for the cuts in recent months and years, he added. He told The Daily Texan last week that quality research will remain a high priority for the University.

“We are collaborating with other universities across the nation to define the public research university of the future,” Powers said in the email. “But some things never change, such as our commitment to education and to nurturing the people and the research that changes the world.”

Richard Vedder, economist at Ohio University and a researcher at the The Center for College Affordability and Productivity, said “excessive” academic research should be eliminated. In an interview with The Daily Texan last month, he said some type of research in liberal arts has an anti-intellectual quality.

President William Powers Jr. said in an interview last week with The Daily Texan that deans and department chairs are getting questions from potential faculty about the future of research at the University. The controversy surrounding the subject is raising skepticism among donors and alumni as well.

“Anyone that talks about reducing research at the University has to understand that it will have a drastic impact on regional and statewide economy,” said Bruce Kellison, an associate director of the research arm IC^2, a University think tank.

If UT wasn’t doing the type of research it does, the funding it receives would go to other schools such as Berkeley, University of Wisconsin, University of California at Los Angeles and University of Illinois, Kellison said. That would hurt the Texas economy, he added.

“Because we are tier one, we are attracting people from all over the country and the world,” he said.

UT’s operating budget is $2.2 billion, but its economic footprint on Texas’ economy is $5.8 billion, Kellison said.

Students attending the University from other states and countries contribute to the state’s economy through direct and indirect spending, he said, and the University’s presence stimulates job growth both on and off campus.

“50,000 [students] buying cokes, pizzas and groceries — that is a lot of extra employment local businesses are able to generate from direct spending,” Kellison said.

Besides generating revenue through research, UT creates an environment that enables students to compete in an ever-changing world, said Texas economist Ray Perryman, who runs the Perryman Group, an economic analysis firm in Waco.

“It produces generation after generation of extraordinary people who will go on to make great contributions to the state, whether it is in sciences or politics,” Perryman said.

Updated on 07/18/2011 at 1:18 p.m.: Richard Vedder's attribution


University officials, state lawmakers and a UT alumni association have all voiced their support for University research after the UT System hired a controversial academic adviser last month who questioned the prominence of research at the University.

Rick O’Donnell raised concerns because of his affiliation with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank that emphasizes the value of teaching rather than research at state universities. O’Donnell wrote policy statements questioning the emphasis universities place on research.

David Guenthner, a spokesman for the foundation, said as tuition rates and student debt loads increase, Texas students deserve a renewed commitment to “instruction, fiscal discipline and accountability.”

He said the Legislature encouraged state universities to produce world-class research but issued a longer-standing mandate to graduate future Texas leaders. We believe they can accomplish both, but the universities have to be much more diligent about funding excellence in both teaching and research and not allowing professors to fall back on research as an excuse not to teach,” Guenthner said.

He said the foundation’s view is that more state universities’ resources should go toward funding teaching rather than research. Juan Sanchez, UT’s vice president for research, said the University earned $642 million last year in research grant money, 60 percent of which comes from federal sources.

“It’s money that wouldn’t otherwise come to Texas,” Sanchez said.

He said the money funds research work and goes to faculty, technicians and students involved in research. Students benefit from an institutional focus on research as well, he said. By funding and supporting research, he said the University attracts teachers at the forefront of work in their respective fields.

“The teaching skills you can learn,” Sanchez said. “You can’t learn being creative and innovative without a lifetime of work.”
The Texas Exes alumni group president Richard Leshin sent an email to more than 200,000 members and alumni Thursday affirming the importance of research to the mission of the University.

The UT System Board of Regents chair and vice chairs responded to the alumni association’s email with a letter Friday demonstrating the board’s commitment to academic research and offered to meet with the Texas Exes executive committee.

After receiving the regent’s letter, Leshin sent a second email to members and alumni, announcing his intentions to meet with the board and explaining the importance of protecting the value attached to a UT degree. An organization spokeswoman Erin Huddleston said the executive committee will continue to support UT’s mission and core values of balancing leading research with quality teaching.
She said the organization is concerned because neglecting either side of the mission would hurt the quality of the University.

“Without emphasis on research you won’t have the same level of faculty,” she said. Physics professor Roy Schwitters said he came to work at UT because of a high-profile research project the University was involved in. The project, which would have built the world’s largest particle accelerator outside Waxahachie, was abandoned in 1993, partially because of increasing costs.

Schwitters, who is teaching an introductory physics course this semester, said his research over the past few years has focused on building detectors that track particles which penetrate the earth’s atmosphere and surface. He said with long enough exposure times the devices create images of large areas.

Schwitters is exploring whether the technology could benefit safety efforts in Japan. He said the detectors could be used to create images of the inside of nuclear reactors possibly damaged in the recent earthquakes offshore.