On “Cultural Taxation”

The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion arsenal has a new weapon.

After decades of the academy’s never-ending stream of new jargon, one can’t be blamed for ignoring another entry. But as with all the others, what begins as a crackpot idea quickly finds its way into university rules and regulations. That’s what’s happening with “cultural taxation.”

For a few years now, individual campuses of California State University have been considering turning what seemed like just another grievance into an opportunity to promote a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) agenda.

What begins as a crackpot idea often finds its way into university regulations.A typical university policy statement (such as this one from California State University, Fullerton) reads, “Faculty members from traditionally underrepresented groups may experience additional demands on their time, a phenomenon termed ‘cultural taxation.’ Cultural taxation involves the obligation to demonstrate good citizenship towards the institution by serving its needs for ethnic representation and cultural understanding, often without commensurate institutional rewards.”

An article promoted by the California Faculty Association further explains that “minority faculty are expected to serve as role models and mentors for minority students.” It adds, “Clearly, serving on university and department committees as the ‘minority’ representative is taxing in itself. But being expected to ‘speak for your people’ as well, is a form of ‘taxation without representation’ at whose mere consideration, would make most faculty shudder” [sic].


The argument is that minority faculty members are so overwhelmed by the “cultural taxation” they experience that they neglect their research and teaching duties, which in turn makes their academic advancement very difficult. They need additional compensation for that supposed burden. The suggestion is that they should get credit towards tenure or advancing in the professorship ranks for the time spent working with “underrepresented” students.

In one proposal, at CSU Fullerton, 60 hours a year (a couple of hours each week during the school year) for five years would be enough to meet tenure requirements. That amounts to a new path to tenure available only to minority faculty, bypassing the traditional scholarly requirements.

But is there a problem in the first place?

“Cultural taxation” is a charade played in the interest of “equity.” It is not about cultural understanding or ethnic representation. It is about numbers and percentages. The proposed “compensation” applies only to those whose numbers are “too low”: African American/Black, American Indian or Native American, Hispanic, and Hawaiian Native or Pacific Islander faculty. Apparently, that feeling of “obligation to demonstrate good citizenship towards the institution” stops beyond the categories designated by the DEI office.

“Cultural taxation” is a charade played in the interest of “equity.”This would seem to mean that, for example, if you are a professor of Chinese ancestry, you are relieved from the obligation. Do we want that implication?

But wait, the “cultural taxation” crowd will respond: It’s not just the faculty; it is the students. Only some faculty groups are burdened by the need to help “their people” (the words from the mentioned article). Putting aside how offensive and arrogant the phrase “their people” is, why assume that those minority students need more help than students from other groups? University officials assure us that all admitted students, including the “underrepresented,” are equally qualified for academic work. Why should any of these students need more help?

There is a more fundamental question: Even if they do need help, as some students in general do, why must the help come from a faculty member of a matching race or ethnicity? Why would a Latino professor necessarily be more effective in helping Latino students than an Asian-American, white, or black professor?

The proponents of “cultural taxation” assume that members of each group have some special connection through shared experience and cultural values. But there is no assurance that a professor and a student from the same group are somehow matched, especially for such a diverse group as Latinos. But even if they are, what does that have to do with learning mathematical formulas, biological concepts, or philosophy?


But let’s assume that there is some value in such racial representation, whether in terms of participating in diversity activities or assisting students. Is it true that minority faculty are pressured to participate beyond their job’s contractual obligations?

The truth is that very few among the faculty (any faculty, not only the minority) do work beyond what they are paid for. Doing research, participating in committee work, teaching, advising, and mentoring students is part of the job. There is plenty of time and opportunity to help students during the course of those activities.

The truth is that very few faculty do work beyond what they are paid for.Reading the university and union material, one could imagine segregated departments in which minority faculty are “oppressed,” helpless, and can’t say “no.” But minority faculty are not much of a minority anymore. Close to 40 percent of all faculty (by CSU statistics) are minorities.

The administrators and the unions run the show. They complain that there is “cultural taxation” but insist that they have the power to stop it. Why would they allow something that harms the same people they are supposedly trying to help? And why would minority faculty be doing things that are detrimental to their research and career?

The administrators and the unions can discourage excessive volunteering or set up monetary compensation for extra work. Why don’t they? The answer is simple: Because extra pay would not help much with their agenda, they make up or exaggerate the problem and then push for policies that would make it easier for minority faculty from specific groups to get tenure and promotion.

The next question is, do minority faculty do more than is required?

The universities are awash with tons of DEI activities. CSU spends millions of dollars for well-staffed DEI departments. They contract with consulting firms and invite individual speakers and experts. Outside of DEI (although is there really anything outside of DEI?), universities are full of programs to assist all students and even more programs to assist those from “underrepresented” groups.

The argument that minority faculty are expected (or even obligated) to spend extra time on such work without compensation, and that they actually do, is not true. Outside of some anecdotal evidence, no hard data would show that such a burden exists.

The idea of “cultural taxation” was made up mainly by activists who, indeed, are very much involved with students, but for entirely different reasons. They are not there to help with learning and scholarship but to promote the old and tired gospel of oppression. The author of the publication promoted by the union is one of them. They are very busy propagandizing and don’t have time for other things.

“Cultural taxation” policies will reward political and ideological activism.One of the consequences of the new policies is that allowing faculty extra time to spend with students as a significant factor in tenure and promotion decisions will reward political and ideological activism. That is bad enough, but there are worse “unintended consequences.”

Whenever there is an easy way to get things, someone will take advantage of it. And why not? Serious research can be difficult and time-consuming. Organizing a few diversity workshops or spending a couple of hours per week with students is easy. Not to mention that nobody would verify the quality of such things. It would be tempting for anyone, regardless of that person’s identity, to cut a few corners to get tenure and promotion or to get it sooner. But when such options are available to only some groups, cutting corners becomes associated with only those groups.

The few low-quality faculty who will undoubtedly be promoted with the help of the new rules will give the entire group a bad name. Once we enter identity politics, it isn’t easy to suddenly switch to seeing people as individuals. The policy harms the same people that it is supposed to help. And it harms the students, too.

The universities and the unions argue that underrepresented students need role models. But at the same time, the university doesn’t seem to understand what that concept is. Most often, only faculty active in diversity-related programs are seen as role models. It is almost like the “role model” must be announced to the world. But screaming, “Look at me! I’m the role model,” doesn’t make one.

Students need professors who are hard-working and successful—those who do serious research, run engineering projects, write books, and are high-quality teachers. There are many of them among minority faculty, and those are the people who need to be recognized and cultivated by the university. Promoting the few mediocre activists doesn’t serve the students or the institution, and it definitely does not serve underrepresented faculty.

Mariusz Ozminkowski is a lecturer at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He teaches courses in communication, media, and politics.