Housing Dining Hospitality (HDH) Director Mark Cunningham will retire at the end of the academic year.
Several student government representatives have confirmed Cunningham’s retirement, which will go into effect at the end of the school year. Cunningham has managed HDH for the last 40 years, watching over 5.3 million square feet of facilities contained in 400 buildings and employing over 600 career staff and 1000 students. His tenure has seen a majority of the campus expansions, including the construction of The Village.
In 2011, Cunningham made $174,366.68, according to UC annual wage data. By 2015, his salary had increased $32,785.32 to a total of $207,152.00. In the next year, from 2015-2016, his salary increased another $23,253 to $234,905.00.
Over the last few months, staff on campus have described him with language that ranges from “the nicest person on campus” to “an eccentric and reclusive Howard Hughes.” As someone who has shied away from the public eye, he is known by student government representatives and administrators as both an advocate for students and a detractor of The Triton Food Pantry.
Zahabiya Nuruddin, a Warren Senator on the HDH Undergraduate Student Advisory Committee, believes that Cunningham has mostly been open to hearing student concerns and primarily not opposed to new changes.
“I know that many students are upset with the way HDH is currently, but I believe that there is a disconnect between administration and UCSD students. No one has bad intentions in mind, but the miscommunication has led to these feelings of uncertainty and mistrust,” she said. “There needs to be greater transparency and a willingness to work together to solve the issues we are currently facing, and with the new Director, there can hopefully be new and effective ways in which we can bridge this gap.”
Nuruddin says we can learn from Cunningham’s tenure as we move forward in the processing of picking a new Director of HDH.
“We can learn from this experience and hold the new director accountable for the needs of students and improve campus as a whole, together,” she said.
At the same time, Cunningham is described by students as being both smug and direct, as well as convoluted and exasperated, in his emails to students. Adrian Garcia, a fourth year Chemical Engineering major, recently corresponded with Cunningham directly via email and posted about it on Facebook.
“I felt like he absolutely failed to address simple questions and instead of giving a respectfully dismissive response,” Garcia said. “He preferred to attack my life decisions on a personal level and make assumptions about students’ situation and preferences without any data to substantiate his claims.”
In one of the rare times Cunningham appeared in a public setting, he caused an uproar of student annoyance. In November 2016, he called students lazy during a conference off campus, but a reporter was in the room.
“Students are lazy and they don’t really want to commute, so it’s a real big challenge,” Cunningham said.
He has since said that his words were taken out of context, but the reporter contends they were not.
“I would never put a quote in the paper that wasn’t true, and I don’t see how it could be ‘out of context’ considering he only spoke for five minutes or so,” said Phillip Molnar, the journalist from The San Diego Union Tribune who reported on the conference.
Associated Students President Lesly Figueroa believes that Cunningham’s role has been essential to the campus, but now believes the administration should look to prioritizing student and worker input in finding a replacement who understands student engagement, basic needs, and attainable and equitable housing.
Figueroa plans to host a student forum in the near future, once Cunningham’s replacement has been finalized.
“The Director of Housing, Dining, and Hospitality plays a critical role in student housing and the future of the UC San Diego campus planning vision,” said Figueroa. “Mark Cunningham’s retirement opens up an opportunity for a new face to lead a very important component of the University.”
Gabe Schneider is the News Editor at The Triton. You can follow him on Twitter @gabemschneider