‘Problem solvers’: Omar Syed and Rice legal team honored by top industry organization

Omar Syed
Omar Syed
Omar Syed

The National Association of College and University Attorneys (NACUA) will honor Rice University Vice President and General Counsel Omar Syed with the Distinguished Service Award at its annual conference later this month. Syed, who will also serve as the event’s opening speaker, shares the prestigious recognition with the entire Office of General Counsel team for their outstanding performance.

“A university of Rice’s caliber deserves a first-class legal team – one that has not only the technical acumen Rice deserves, but also the optimism, sensitivity and versatility to match the heroic ambitions of our students, faculty and campus leaders,” Syed said. “If the Rice community can change the world and the legal team can play a helpful role behind the scenes, we’ve done our job and more.”

Syed, who just finished serving three years on NACUA’s Board of Directors, is the chief legal officer for the university and its Board of Trustees. The Office of General Counsel functions as Rice's chief legal representative and provides legal advice and assistance to the university, faculty and staff in order to facilitate the mission and the conduct of Rice’s business affairs. The office also retains and oversees all outside counsel for the University.

A first-generation American, Syed joined Rice in August 2022 after serving for 15 years in the legal office for the University of Texas System. Previously, he served as an assistant attorney general for the State of Minnesota and an assistant U.S. attorney for the Department of Justice. Since his arrival at Rice, Syed and his team have achieved many benchmark successes, including:

  • Advised university leadership how to navigate changes in the law that affect college and graduate admissions, reproductive rights, academic freedom and free expression, diversity initiatives and gender equity efforts.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, continued the team’s management of the rapidly-changing laws on campus closures, vaccines, face coverings and federal financial assistance.
  • Advised Rice on its issuance of a $350 million bond to fund important campus construction projects.
  • Aided negotiations in a $12.5 million partnership with Woodside Energy, an Australian energy company, to fund decarbonization efforts.
  • Became one of only two college-campus legal offices in the U.S. to receive Mansfield Rule certification, a national award for its success promoting diversity in the legal profession.

Syed credits the entire team for using the law to remove barriers and to help faculty, staff and students reach their goals.

“We do that in different ways because we think of ourselves as problem solvers whose knowledge of the law can help with practical solutions,” Syed said.

Syed will be honored at NACUA’s 2024 Honors & Awards Ceremony on June 26, held in conjunction with its annual conference in Columbus, Ohio. NACUA membership includes more than 850 institutions, representing at least 1,650 campuses which collectively serve more than 8 million students.

To learn more about the Rice Office of General Counsel, visit ogc.rice.edu.