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Pepperdine | School of Public Policy

James Q. Wilson: A Founding Father

James Q. Wilson - Pepperdine University

James Q. Wilson (May 27, 1931 - March 2, 2012)

"James Q. Wilson is more responsible for our curriculum than any other individual."

- David Davenport
Former President (at time of School's launch), Pepperdine University (1985 - 2000); Former Distinguished Professor of Public Policy


Before there was a Pepperdine School of Public Policy, fortune brought James Q. Wilson and his wife to Malibu to live. At a crucial time, the person who would become the School's founding Dean (James R. Wilburn) met Wilson, and introduced him to Pepperdine's then-President, David Davenport. As conversations began around the creation of a School of Public Policy at Pepperdine, Wilson was integrally involved in a select committee of scholars, meeting regularly to discuss the curriculum for the new school. His legacy at the School of Public Policy – as a founder and professor here – will forever mark this institution as a unique place for the study of public policy.

Like few other social scientists of the last century, James Q. Wilson understood that beyond purely pragmatic considerations, the implementation of what could be evaluated as good public policy demanded ethical leaders who possessed a humble awareness of government's limitations. The author of such classics as The Moral Sense (1993), Moral Judgment (1997), and On Character (1997), Wilson emphasized the many human dimensions to policy development.

To this, in many of his other works – like his magisterial Bureaucracy (1989), or his American Government (last ed. 2010), American Politics: Then and Now (2012), or the edited volume, Understanding America: The Anatomy of an Exceptional Nation (2012), Wilson underlined the importance of considering America's unique historical and constitutional elements when attempting to solve public problems. On issues from crime to political engagement, Wilson combined a scientist's pursuit of tested policy with a philosopher's sense of irony.

As one of Pepperdine's School of Public Policy's founders (then becoming our first Ronald Reagan Professor of Public Policy), James Q. Wilson was essential in formulating the most unique curriculum in public policy education. We recognize his central importance to our program through our "James Q. Wilson Core," which demonstrates his wide-ranging approach to preparing public leaders for today's complex challenges.

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