Reactions to Term-Time Employment in Higher Education
Neoliberalism, a set of economic and political practices that has in the last thirty years shifted the responsibility for well-being from the government and onto the individual, assumes that a person’s success in any society or institution is dependent on their personal actions. Any one individual is supposedly equipped to take up the endless opportunities that exist in a capitalist society and therein shape their lives through making the “right” choices; in other words, through hard work and determination, anybody can achieve anything. This system works best when internalized by those within it, and as social scientist Bronwyn Davies summarizes, “within this discursive framing the individualized subject of choice finds it difficult to imagine those choices as being shaped by anything other than his/her own naturalized desire or his/her own rational calculations.”1 How is the widespread shift towards a neoliberal model in higher education manifesting at Boise State, particularly in the strategies students take to pay for their education, and in the ways that they conceptualize their individualized responsibility for doing so? Through an analysis of qualitative student interviews about term-time work, respondents largely invoke neoliberal frameworks of personal responsibility in conceptualizing the academic success or failure of people who work while enrolled at Boise State. Failure to succeed as an employed student is overwhelmingly attributed to the fault of the individual, regardless of their membership to a systemically oppressed group (such as a marginalized race, class, gender, ability level, etc.). These findings have significant implications about the ways students situate themselves within institutions as autonomous subjects when, in reality, their options are constrained by the financial burden of paying for a degree.