HDH is here to serve you?

Pines Dining Hall. (AJ Peterson / The Triton)

Housing*Dining*Hospitality (HDH) claims to be advocating for student needs; their primary goal is to create enough profit to be self-sustaining. So, what is HDH’s incentive to help students? HDH, UCSD’s primary source for on-campus food and housing, claims to not be “not for-profit.” However, this does not mean HDH is a “non-profit,” which would require 501(c)3 registration.

Mark Cunningham, the Executive Director of HDH, says that “Housing *Dining *Hospitality is a self-supporting department of UC San Diego that operates without any state funding and is “not for-profit.” HDH’s rhetoric around being a “not-for-profit” makes it difficult to hold them accountable for any actions that may disadvantage students.

One of my immediate frustrations with HDH was the price differences on campus. I’m sure if you’ve tried to buy anything from a sandwich to a box of cereal, you’ve noticed the on-campus price spikes.

Item John’s Market Cost ($) Vons Cost ($) Price Difference ($) John’s Cost to Vons Cost (%)
Box of Pop-Tarts 4.69 2.99 1.70 156%
Newman’s Own Sockarooni Sauce 5.09 2.99 2.10 170%
Duncan Hines Cake Mix 4.29 2.99 1.30 143%
Pantene Pro-V Classic Clean 2 In 1 Shampoo & Conditioner 8.99 4.99 4.00 180%
Quest Bar 3.89 3.09 .80 125%

When I asked Cunningham about these price spikes, he stated, “our price points are generated to solely cover the cost of operations.” Because HDH is a business, they must make profit to pay their extensive collection of employees, but that doesn’t fully explain or excuse price gouging.  

Cunningham argues, “This past year, HDH Markets added a ‘Yellow Line’ of super-affordable groceries that range in price from $1.69 for a can of vegetables or a jar of mustard to $2.69 for a bottle of salad dressing.” So if you want canned vegetables or mustard, perhaps you can buy those products affordably. Yet, many students are still not able to afford on-campus food, resulting in their inability to eat regular meals.

Cunningham believes that rather than comparing individual items, “a better comparison is comparing the cost of an entire “Basket” of Groceries:  Produce, Dry Goods, Refrigerated Grocery (sic) and Proteins” (capitalization his). But this calculation counts things like “Beauty Items” and other things that are bought relatively infrequently – it doesn’t adequately account for overly expensive food items that must be purchased regularly.

When I asked Cunningham about the food gap, he referred to students as “customers”. While this may seem minute, it’s a slip of the tongue which in my mind implies a whole lot about HDH. HDH does not seek to lower prices for students, but instead thinks of students as consumers to generate profit. HDH’s is not a non-profit “for the students, by the students” as they present themselves, but closer to a business using the captive audience of UCSD students.

This lead me to seek clarification from Katie Hosch, the Associated Students representative on HDH’s Undergraduate Advisory Committee: a committee that meets weekly and makes decisions for HDH’s advancement. Hosch pointed out that it is important that HDH is able to pay to sustain itself and continue to provide services.

“If Dining Dollars weren’t required, no one would buy them and then HDH wouldn’t be able to pay RAs, custodians, and other HDH employees,” said Hosch.

Money made by HDH’s price increases and mandatory dining plans is put back into HDH for improvements. HDH provides more than food services, being the container for  housing, janitorial, and residential advising. The price raises for food at markets help pay for other sectors of HDH. Yet, having a certain quantity of Dining Dollars required does not necessarily mean they have to have high prices on specific items. Students already pay housing fees that are not cheap, so why is there still a deficit that students must fill through exorbitant prices and required Dining Dollar minimums?

Ostensibly it’s understandable, considering these prices are difficult to change. In order to change a price on an HDH item, it must pass through the Undergraduate Advisory Committee. HDH submits a budget proposal to the committee and while the committee can decide individual price differences, they must stay within an HDH-approved budget. To pay the overhead costs of running such a multi-faceted program, Hosch said typically the undergraduate committee cannot “cut a price, without cutting something else.” This means that overall HDH price decreases are relatively impossible; if students want a change, it’s not easy to make happen.

It appears that HDH prioritizes profits in its affairs. However, it lacks transparency about what it does with those profits. It remains unclear how the profits of HDH return back to students, if at all. Even after much research, it was near impossible to find the intricacies of HDH’s finances, or why they charge the way they do.

If HDH is truly here to serve us in an educational environment, then they should be fully transparent in their actions and make it clear that they are here for students and not “customers.”

Jordan Packer is a staff writer at The Triton.

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