In a recent 320-word letter to Florida’s university faculty (14 of which were variants on “jobs” or “entrepreneur”) Governor Rick Scott thanked professors for “helping Florida’s students earn degrees that prepare them for jobs and”–lest you think he is some kinda philistine–“the opportunity to lead fulfilling lives.”
The major point of the letter, though, was to solicit nominations for something called the “Young Entrepreneur Award.” After mentioning his signature initiatives to rein in college costs–one of which was the laughably paltry one-year moratorium on sales taxes for textbooks–he put the onus back on the students.
As a student, I worked to pay my way through college, and I am sure you have many students who are doing the same. I recently created the Young Entrepreneur Award to recognize Florida students, college graduates, and young entrepreneurs who are excelling in the workplace and creating innovative ideas here in Florida. I encourage you to nominate your entrepreneurial students and recent graduates for this award to help get all of your students thinking about their future jobs.
Especially given the implicit accusation in that first clause–I paid my way through college, so why don’t you?–Scott’s request offers a textbook example of the moralism implicit in the word “entrepreneur.” Self-reliant entrepreneurs conquer hardships through hard work and creativity, this thinking goes, earning their success, instead of depending on others–which becomes, in turn, a kind of weakness.
In the context of state cuts to higher ed and tuition hikes, Scott’s pivot from state government funding to student entrepreneurship is a good example of what Wendy Brown calls “responsibilization” in neoliberal politics. Students re-imagined solely as future job-havers become stakeholders, investing in themselves as future earners; public funding for colleges is merely an investment in future income tax revenue; citizens entitled to education as a right are reduced to “taxpayers” funding it. As Brown writes in Undoing the Demos, “Responsibilized individuals are required to provide for themselves in the context of powers and contingencies radically limiting their ability to do so” (134). This language of responsibilization, she argues, deprives citizens of power while also disavowing its own. It is not your university administrators and political leaders who are responsible for the cost of your education, it is you–if you can’t afford it, work longer, innovate better, excel harder, be more entrepreneurial as you attempt to work, study, and live every other part of your life.