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Historical Perspective

David Marchick looks to the past to better understand the present.

David Marchick stands at a podium.
David Marchick returned to address new students at UC San Diego's annual convocation ceremony in 2018.

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This story was published in the Fall 2023 issue of UC San Diego Magazine.

David Marchick ’88 has witnessed history-making moments firsthand. He served as a key advisor to Joe Biden’s presidential transition team, coordinating with senior officials in the White House and engaging with more than 100 federal agencies. During the first year of the Biden administration, he served as chief operating officer of the U.S. Development Finance Corporation overseeing the manufacturing of more than two billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines for the developing world.

His experience, coupled with a passion for history, inspired his book, The Peaceful Transfer of Power: An Oral History of America’s Presidential Transitions, which was released in fall 2022. 

Today, Marchick serves as the dean of American University’s Kogod School of Business in Washington, D.C.

What did you learn from your involvement with the presidential transition of Joe Biden? 

The peaceful transition of power is fundamental to our democracy. Until the year 2020, we took that for granted. My book examines the history of presidential transitions with a view to making them smoother, more effective and more efficient for the benefit of the American people in the future.

How does your perspective in history help us understand conflicts of the present day? 

We have had periods when the peaceful transition of power has been at risk. Seven states seceded within the period between Lincoln’s election and his inauguration. In the Hoover-Roosevelt presidential transition, the Great Depression peaked, we had bank runs in 25 states, Hitler came to power and Japan pulled out of the League of Nations.

During the Trump-Biden transition, we also had four simultaneous crises: the COVID-19 pandemic, an economic crisis, a racial reckoning and a political crisis with the failure of the outgoing president to cooperate with the incoming.

As documentary filmmaker Ken Burns wrote in the forward to my book, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”

What did it mean to you to be part of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution? 

It was the thick of the pandemic and there weren’t enough vaccines to go around, especially in developing countries. I supported vaccine manufacturing for India and South Africa, visiting plants where the vaccines were being produced with the respective delegations of officials. They had tears in their eyes because they knew those vaccines would save the lives of their countrymen and women. My work on COVID-19 was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. 

What does your UC San Diego experience mean to you? 

UC San Diego was formative in my development; it was the place where I gained confidence and competence. I wouldn’t be where I am without UC San Diego. Because of that, and because Chancellor Khosla is an inspirational leader, my wife and I fund undergraduate scholarships through the Chancellor’s Associates Scholars Program, which benefits first-generation students. We also established a fellowship in the School of Global Policy and Strategy and support faculty fellowships at the Rady School of Management. We hope to make a difference for future UC San Diego students. 

David Marchick has served on the boards of the UC San Diego Foundation and Alumni. He was also a member of the cabinet for the Campaign for UC San Diego.

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