In memoriam: President Emeritus Malcolm Gillis

Malcolm Gillis, the sixth president of Rice University, died Oct. 4 at age 74.

former Rice President Malcolm Gillis

Malcolm Gillis

A University Professor, the Ervin Kenneth Zingler Professor of Economics and a professor of management, Gillis served as president from 1993 to 2004, one of Rice’s most active periods. He was a well-known economist who consulted with numerous countries on economic public policy.

“Malcolm served Rice as its president for 11 years with extraordinary distinction and dedication, raising the university to new heights,” President David Leebron said. “His efforts bettered not only the university, but the city of Houston, the state of Texas, the nation and the world. He continued to serve Rice in many capacities in the 11 years since his presidency, including as teacher, scholar and global ambassador.

“As my predecessor, he was an important and sympathetic adviser. Malcolm was a world-renowned scholar of development economics. During and after his presidency, he dedicated himself in particular to fostering the creation of new universities. His enthusiasm and friendship spanned the entire university — and globe. We will deeply miss him here at Rice.”

Provost Marie Lynn Miranda has been a friend of the Gillis family for more than 30 years. “Malcolm Gillis was an energetic, gregarious and impassioned advocate for higher education,” she said. “He was a global citizen who served the world in so many ways. In over three decades of knowing the Gillis family, I was always struck by Malcolm’s ability to do so much professionally while still making his family the center of his life. Like so many others, Malcolm warmly welcomed my own family into his. He was a great fisherman and a captivating storyteller.”

Born in Dothan, Ala., in 1940, Gillis worked his way through college and received an Associate of Arts degree from Chipola Junior College in Marianna, Fla., and then transferred as a junior to the University of Florida, where he received Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees. He also earned a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. For the first 25 years of his professional life, he taught economics and helped some 20 countries apply economic analysis to public policy. His first faculty post, as an assistant professor of economics at Duke University, was followed by a 15-year stint at Harvard University. He returned to Duke, where he served as dean of the graduate school, vice provost for academic affairs and then dean of arts and sciences before coming to Rice in 1993.

His achievements as president of Rice were lauded in 2004 when he and his wife, Elizabeth, were awarded the Association of Rice (ARA) Alumni’s Gold Medal, the association’s highest honor. The ARA noted that Gillis developed and implemented the first strategic plan spearheaded by a Rice president since the early 1960s. That plan became the platform that launched the university’s first comprehensive capital campaign, Rice: The Next Century Campaign. Under Gillis’ leadership, Rice undertook more construction of new buildings and renovation of older facilities than it had during any previous decade. Among those projects were Martel College, a new facility for Wiess College, the Humanities building, the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management building, Reckling Park, renovations to Keck, Herring and Rayzor halls and construction of Dell Butcher Hall, which became the home of the world’s first center dedicated to nanotechnology, now called the Smalley-Curl Center.

The ARA also noted that Gillis guided investment in information and computational technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology and environmental and energy technology. He consistently promoted the humanities and social sciences as no less important than the natural sciences and engineering to contemporary life and endeavor. Collaborative efforts between Rice and various institutions of the Texas Medical Center increased from just a handful in the early 1990s to more than 80, the ARA noted. Gillis encouraged expansion of the School of Continuing Studies program, and he fostered Rice’s educational outreach. Rice’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy was established during Gillis’s presidency and has earned a global reputation as one of the country’s premier policy think tanks.

In 1997 Gillis helped guide the founding of International University Bremen (now known as Jacobs University Bremen) in Germany, an institute modeled on Rice. He later helped found several other international universities, including Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, the first private university in North Korea, Tan Tao University in Vietnam and Catholic University of Chile. He was appointed to the board of directors of the Vietnam Education Foundation, an independent U.S. federal agency founded by Congress to promote closer education and research relations between the U.S. and Vietnam.

Gillis also recognized the increasing importance of a global education and helped increase the number of Rice undergraduates studying abroad. He was also a strong advocate for underrepresented minorities. He created the President’s Council on Minority Affairs and initiated the Office of Minority Community Affairs at Rice.

“Malcolm and Elizabeth Gillis have served Rice unstintingly throughout the past decade,” read a Gold Medal nomination signed by all the speakers of the faculty who served during Malcolm’s tenure as president. “They have opened their home to countless guests, attended innumerable events on campus and off, worked closely with alumni across the country and served as models of academic hospitality. Under Malcolm’s leadership the university has taken great strides forward in facilities, faculty and finances. The Gillis era will be recorded in history as one in which Rice made significant advances, especially in research and scholarship, international reputation and aspiration.”

After his presidency, Gillis resumed his teaching career under the title University Professor, Rice’s highest faculty designation. His research interests included fiscal theory and policy, economic development, environmental policy and natural resources (theory and policy). He co-authored the popular textbook Economics of Development and served as co-editor for the Quarterly Journal of Economics. He published in the leading journals of his fields, including Quarterly Journal of Economics, American Economic Review and Journal of Development Economics.

“Malcolm Gillis was a pioneer in the field of development economics,” said Department of Economics Chair Antonio Merlo. “A prolific and influential scholar, Professor Gillis was a firm believer in the importance of economic research for the formulation and assessment of public policy in developing countries. Here at Rice, he also was an eminent and dedicated teacher who always provided extra care to the students with his tireless involvement in mentoring, advising and guiding them throughout their academic career and beyond.”

In 2008 Texas Gov. Rick Perry appointed Gillis to an oversight committee for the new Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). Gillis was elected vice chair of CPRIT, which is charged with issuing $3 billion in general obligation bonds over 10 years to fund grants for cancer research and prevention.

Gillis founded and later led several academic organizations, including the Texas/U.K. Research Collaborative on Nano and Bio Technology, the Boniuk Center for the Study of Religious Tolerance at Rice and the Duke University Center for Tropical Conservation. He was a founding member and later a chairman of the board for BioHouston. He also served as a director of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank.

Two university professorships are named in Gillis’s honor: the Malcolm Gillis University Professor at Rice and the S. Malcolm Gillis Professorship of Public Policy at Duke.

Last week the ARA named Gillis an honorary alumnus — a title that the association has awarded to only 10 others.

Gillis is survived by Elizabeth, three children – Nora, Heather and Stephen – and grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Oct. 28 in Stude Hall at Alice Pratt Brown Hall.

Editor’s note: Fondren Library’s Woodson Research Center has an extensive collection of materials about Malcolm Gillis in its Rice Presidents and Provosts exhibit.


About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.