During his tenure as President of the University of Colorado, he oversaw the redesign of the Boulder campus under the plans of noted architect, Charles Zeller Klauder. Norlin is also remembered for resisting efforts by the Ku Klux Klan, which had taken control of the Colorado legislature in about 1922. The Klan insisted he dismiss all Catholic and Jewish faculty, but he resisted and guided the University through the years until 1926, when the Klan lost control of the legislature and governorship. During that period the University subsisted on a millage built into the state constitution; its budget was cut to zero.
Norlin died in Boulder. Norlin Library, located in the Norlin Quadrangle of the University of Colorado, was named in his honor. The University of Colorado at Boulder offers the Norlin Scholars Program for highly motivated students with excellent academic or creative ability. The George Norlin Award at the University of Colorado honors alumni of the University for distinguished lifetime achievement.