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Davis, California

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Q&A with ASUCD business manager

After 32 years at UC Davis, Mark Champagne, the ASUCD business manager, is ready to say goodbye.

Champagne began his career at UC Davis in May 1979, after receiving his masters of business administration from Northern Arizona University. He started out as the ASUCD business manager after working as director of student activities at Northern Arizona University.

Though he hasn’t set a date yet, Champagne said he will be retiring during the current academic year. The university has begun looking for his replacement, but they haven’t settled on anyone yet.

How was your overall experience?

Oh it’s been so incredibly fantastic. I’m so lucky to be in an organization that’s really action-oriented. Student government tends to be risk-oriented as opposed to risk-adverse so it’s been fun working with the students and trying to accomplish their goals.

What did you feel was your biggest accomplishment while at UC Davis?

We had a lot of financial problems when I first started here. We ran a large deficit. It was very difficult. I always think that one of my legacies is financial stability. We have reserves now. We’ve never raised the general fee – we’ve lived off the $8 fee that existed in 1978, which I think is a nice accomplishment.

I’m very proud of Unitrans, the Coffee House and Picnic Day. These are basically students that are doing these services and [these services are] really well respected around the nation. That gives me a good feeling.

Were you actually involved when Unitrans and the Coffee House were established?

I was not. Unitrans was what we used to call a house of cards. We weren’t federally funded at the time – it could have fallen apart very easily. Now it’s very strong. When I started, it was just kind of a crazy idea. What we’ve done since then is take those fledging units and build them into units that we can be proud of.

Who would ever have the idea, “let’s buy a couple of double-deckers from London and run them around Davis?” The university would never come up with that. They’d say that’s illogical but students come up with that and say, “let’s make it work.” Unitrans today is a well-respected transit system, but think about when it started. Two double-deckers from England? How would we get them over here and who’s going to learn to drive them?

The Coffee House started out as an alternative to institutionalized food service. A bunch of students cooking? Student government is risk-oriented. Years later, people think the Coffee House is great. Unitrans is a vital component of getting students to campus.

Universities tend to not want to take on risk. Student government is exactly the opposite – let’s try this, let’s give it a shot, let’s see if it works. With any organization like that, you end up with a lot of mistakes. That’s just the way it is. But you have some successes, like the Whole Earth Festival, Unitrans, the Coffee House and the Bike Barn – things that are very well respected now. All of this started because students have ideas and somebody allowed them to do it. University administrators probably would have done none of those.

What will you miss most about your job?

I’ll miss the students a lot. Interacting with the students is by far the greatest joy of the job, which is kind of ironic because when I interviewed, I had an MBA and I think people kind of assumed I was a numbers guy. I could do the financial stuff but it’s the interpersonal relationships that have been far more important to me.

And also helping [the students] – I love to do letters of recommendation and I do a lot of them. Students put in a lot of time, effort and work into student government for not a lot of money. College is never the final resting place. It’s always a training ground for something else. To help somebody get to that next level is a great joy. I’ll miss those interactions.

What are you looking forward to with retirement?

One of the things I’ve always wanted to do was to go to the New England states in October because of the leaves. Because school starts in October, I can never leave at that time. There are also some countries I’d like to visit outside the United States that I’ve never been able to. There are some volunteer activities that I have planned, too.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I hope I’m remembered for being honest and ethical and being transparent. You’re not going to hit a home run every single time. I make mistakes – we all make mistakes. But we try to own up to the mistakes that we make.

AKSHAYA RAMANUJAM can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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