McGeorge faculty founder of first MPA and MPP programs at a U.S. law school retires leaving indelible legacy at McGeorge School of Law

Dr. John Kirlin, who led McGeorge’s 2016 groundbreaking creation of the first-ever Master in Public Administration (MPA) and Master in Public Policy (MPP) programs to be housed in a U.S. law school, has retired from the law school.

In 2015, Kirlin joined the McGeorge community with the express goal of creating a distinctive MPA and MPP program. Having both worked in the field and taught for more than 30 years, Kirlin saw an opportunity to arm graduates with the legal knowledge they need to be effective government leaders and policy advocates. 200 McGeorge MPA and MPP students[JK1]  later, his distinctive vision has been proven right.

Kirlin’s prior academic experience included roles at the University of Southern California (USC) and Indiana University, and he had real world experience in executive roles with the California Resources Agency. Notably, at USC, Kirlin was the inaugural holder of the first endowed chair in the USC School of Public Administration.

During his impressive academic career, he authored more than 100 journal articles and book chapters and 13 books. In addition, he founded and edited the influential and prestigious California Policy Choices.

As Executive Director, Kirlin also spearheaded the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative, developing the foundational structures and processes for the Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Regional Stakeholder Group, and the Science Advisory Team. At the conclusion of this first pilot, the Fish and Game Commission established 29 Marine Protected Areas along the Central Coast. Three more iterations led to the creation of 124 marine protection areas along California's coast, a singular accomplishment globally. Kirlin then served as Executive Director of Delta Vision, a two-year effort with a Blue Ribbon Task force, science advisors, stakeholder processes, and an Advisory Group of heads of State agencies. The resulting Delta Vision Strategic Plan informed passage of a package of five bills in the 2009 legislative session, creating new policies shaping sustainable water resource use and ecosystem functions, and creating a new Delta Stewardship Council to review proposed water and ecosystem projects for conformity with those policies.

Drawing on his extensive background, which includes being an elected member of the National Academy of Public Administration and serving as an environmental policy advisor to various governmental bodies such as the U.S. Congress, EPA, and NOAA, Kirlin brought a combination of academic prestige and practical, hands-on expertise to his role as the founding director of McGeorge's Master in Public Administration (MPA) and Master in Public Policy (MPP) programs.

“[Kirlin] accomplished about everything that you can accomplish in his field, practical, theoretical, student oriented, scholarly oriented, he's done it all. What can he do at McGeorge to add to the list of his accomplishments? [Kirlin] didn't come here to get anything. He came here to give a lot. And in the time he's been here, he is given a great deal in starting these programs,” former Dean and current law professor Francis Mootz said.

Photo of Dr. John Kirlin

Dr. John Kirlin is the creator of the first MPP and MPA programs at a law school in the U.S. Photo by Ashley Golledge.

The MPA and MPP curriculum offer a rigorous blend of policy, legal, and leadership education, aiming to empower students to address multifaceted societal challenges. The program is different from other MPA and MPP programs for requiring courses in law, systemic change, and focus on California governance. Furthermore, students can pursue interdisciplinary concentrations, including Environmental & Water Policy, Capital Policy Making, Public and Non-profit Leadership.

Kirlin directed the MPA and MPP programs from 2015 to 2021, after which he transitioned to a full-time faculty position. In this role, he shared his expertise by teaching core program courses such as Public Policy: Conflicted, Complex, Uncertain and Capstone: Strategy, Implementation.

In May 2024, Kirlin was honored with the Chester A. Newland Academic Excellence Award at the ASPA Sacramento Chapter's 42nd Annual Awards Dinner. The award is presented to a college student, teacher, administrator, or organization that has demonstrated scholarship and leadership in public administration or a closely related field of study, or that has made a noteworthy contribution to the education of public administrators.

“This law school celebrating 100 years, that's an amazing accomplishment and I'm hopeful that it's still here in another hundred years. I'm hopeful this program [MPA and MPP] gets to succeed a hundred years. I'm just grateful to be part of it and I'm looking forward to it now,” Kirlin remarked at his retirement celebration.

Group photo of MPA and MPP alumni

MPA and MPP alumni celebrate Dr. John Kirlin on April 26, 2024, at his retirement celebration. Photo by Ashley Golledge.

To honor the legacy of Kirlin, MPA and MPP faculty, led by Dr. Jeffrey Michael and Dr. Marcie Paolinelli, established the John Kirlin Scholarship which will support incoming and current MPA and MPP students that demonstrate a commitment to public service.

“John’s is immensely proud of the success of the 175 graduates of this unique program, and the legacy of the Kirlin scholarship will inspire and support even more students launch and advance meaningful careers in public service,” Jeffrey Michael, Director of Public Policy Programs said.

For more information about McGeorge School of Law, visit our website.

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