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Thursday, August 11, 2022

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A Public Servant’s Gift to the Future

Jack McGrory envisions SDSU’s School of Public Affairs ranked among the nation’s best and is donating $1 million toward that goal.
By Tobin Vaughn

Jack McGrory (’76, ’17 LHD) is emphatic about his vision for San Diego State University’s School of Public Affairs (SPA). “I want it to be one of the premier public administration schools in the country,” he said. 
To help make that vision a reality, McGrory is donating $1 million to the school in $100,000 yearly increments through 2030. Beyond the decade, he intends to contribute an additional $100,000 each year for the rest of his life.
According to School of Public Affairs Director and Professor Sherry Ryan, McGrory’s gift, announced in July, provides potential well beyond his longtime support for the school’s student scholarship and academic programs. “There are so many things we can do,” she said.  
“Jack is expanding the capacity for students to be involved in governance and public leadership thanks to his unique understanding of public service,” she said.
McGrory’s views involving public service were established in his youth. He grew up an Irish Catholic in Boston, where President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration entreaty of “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” was practically a mantra. 
Role Model
“I am a JFK kind of guy,” McGrory said of his philanthropy. “Public service was really important in those days and it was highly valued — unlike today, unfortunately.”
The same day McGrory received his college degree he also received his draft notice. After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, he accepted a position with the City of San Diego the same week he began the master’s of public administration program in SDSU’s School of Public Affairs.
He eventually earned a law degree and advanced his public service career to become San Diego city manager. McGrory also taught classes through SPA where he inspired new generations of students.
“They liked it because I could come in and tell them real-life experiences of what it’s like to be involved in city government,” McGrory said.
Beyond his work, McGrory’s public service has included his membership on various committees and boards throughout the community, including three terms on The Campanile Foundation Board of Directors during which he served as chair. He is currently a member of the California State University Board of Trustees.
With regard to his SPA contributions, Ryan said McGrory tries to support the areas of greatest need. “Jack is very insightful and he brings a sincere desire to help,” she said.
In order to target his philanthropy most effectively, McGrory said he often speaks with students and faculty about how things are taught. He is favorably impressed with the level of instruction.
“At San Diego State you see people who are really dedicated to making this university better, providing access, providing opportunity, and working with the students,” he said. “Because we are not necessarily a total research university, faculty has a lot of time to spend with the students and I think they do a really good job of that, particularly in the School of Public Affairs.”
People’s University
McGrory is sensitive to the circumstances of SDSU’s many first-generation students. His own parents never finished high school and he was the first in his family to earn a degree.
“This is the people’s university,” he said. “This is where [first-generation] kids can come and get a great education and a great opportunity and move up. It’s just very important.”
One of McGrory’s goals is to establish a new SPA degree in social justice. He believes students and faculty could focus on a reevaluation of local issues such as neighborhood partnerships, policing, and all other aspects of city government.
“We need to provide great customer service and it’s a different way of looking at local government,” he said. “That would all be encompassed in a new curriculum around social justice.”
Ryan believes if anyone could make such a degree program happen, it’s McGrory. She cites what she describes as his all-business, “nuts and bolts style,” combined with a long-range vision and a full understanding of the impact of his philanthropy.
“The gift that he has given us doesn’t just affect current students,” she said. “As long as SDSU is here, he is going to be helping students.”