General Counsel’s Carlos Garcia earns Elizabeth Gillis Award


Carlos Garcia, a staff attorney in Rice’s General Counsel’s Office, joked that he thought the payoff for attending the spring town hall would be free breakfast tacos. Little could he imagine the true payoff: Garcia was named this year’s recipient of the annual Elizabeth Gillis Award for Exemplary Service.

Carlos Garcia

Carlos Garcia, center, accepts the Elizabeth Gillis Award for Exemplary Service from Gillis and President David Leebron. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)

“Carlos has been at Rice in the Office of the General Counsel for over 20 years,” said Elizabeth Gillis, who presented the award along with President David Leebron at the May 5 meeting. “His work touches every area of the university. Whether dealing with faculty, staff or student matters, numerous people at Rice rely on Carlos for his excellent legal knowledge and expertise, his keen intelligence, his creativity, his thoughtfulness, his good judgment and his calm demeanor.”

The Elizabeth Gillis Service Award for Exemplary Service, named for the wife of former Rice President Malcolm Gillis, recognizes Rice staff members who, like Gillis herself, demonstrate unflagging commitment and service to the university.

Gillis shared comments from letters nominating Garcia for the honor.

One of his supporters said Carlos “always acts in the most professional manner and seeks solutions that navigate complex legal situations without raising the temperature in the room. The ability to stay levelheaded and focused during emotionally trying discussions is just one of his rare gifts.”

Another supporter wrote that Carlos “bridges the needs of the campus to the needs of the individual, whether the individual is a student, a faculty member, a staff member or whoever is involved. Carlos gets the big picture for Rice, the human level alongside the institutional priorities.”

In recent years, Garcia has worked on several projects of “critical importance” to the university, said one nominator, including an alcohol policy for students that encourages and fosters safe behavior while maintaining the university’s obligations to the law and to the community and the new sexual misconduct policy, which “has put Rice at the leading edge of universities nationwide.” He has also worked to ensure Rice’s compliance with new and rapidly evolving Title IX requirements.

“In short, Carlos is the ‘go to’ person for all issues involving legal considerations regarding student life and student behavior,” the nominator wrote.

Gillis said one of the nomination letters summarized Carlos’ contributions to Rice: “He makes me, as well as the university, better.”

Richard Zansitis, vice president and general counsel, said, “Carlos is a very valued and important member of our legal team at the university. I am delighted that the university and his co-workers across Rice have recognized his many contributions to help the university meet its goals, just as his colleagues within the legal office have a chance to appreciate him daily.”

As Garcia accepted the award, he said, “I’m humbled by this — and even a little bit embarrassed — because I feel like all I’m doing here is enjoying what is a tremendous blessing: to come to work every day at such a beautiful place — a great institution making an enormous impact on the world and touching so many lives.

“From the beginning, I felt like I was led to Rice, and I still feel that way. But what I didn’t know at the beginning that I can now reflect on after 21 years of a lot of difficult issues that we’ve been able to iron out is that the other part of the blessing was working with all of you. You are tremendous people, and I appreciate you and I appreciate this very much.”

Garcia joins a distinguished list of recipients of the Elizabeth Gillis Award. To view a list of past recipients, visit


About Jennifer Evans

Jennifer Evans is a senior editor in the Rice's Office of Public Affairs.