An article co-written by Alexa Arndt (PhD 2023) appears in the Journal of Campus Activities Practice and Scholarship. The research presented in the article, “College Student Government Elections and the Espousal of Neoliberalism in Campaign and Platform Discourse,” found neoliberal elements were “present in almost every platform and at every institution” in the study sample. Based on their findings, the authors formulated recommendations to help administrators and advisers better prepare campaign leaders and successful candidates.
The four authors studied 18 student government campaign platforms from nine different institutions in Florida. They specifically examined candidates’ campaign and election materials and considered how candidates described and furthered campuses’ neoliberal agendas, policies, and thought.
The authors, all of whom were either active student leaders or staff advisers to campus student governments, sought to “write with practitioners in mind [and] make our research and writing applicable to the efforts of those on the frontlines of student government and student leadership work in higher education.”
Arndt and her coauthors explained their focus, “Examining student government platform discourse in Florida provides higher education administrators and student government advisors with a better understanding of how students describe challenges on campus and, subsequently, their leadership vision to address those challenges.”
Four main observations emerged across institutions and campaigns: a focus on student finances, advancement of private sector solutions, disconnect from larger state political movements and higher education policies, and a reliance on newer social media platforms to share messages.
Building from these findings, the authors formulated practical guidance to help administrators and advisors who work with campaigns before and after elections. These key recommendations include engaging candidates in a “deeper political understanding of their role and the society and system they operate within” and offering elected officers greater institutional context and other tools to make them better prepared.
For the article, neoliberalism is defined as “a predominant Western ideology that seeks to uphold the privatization of goods and resources while enforcing individual responsibility and capitalism as the prioritization of ‘free markets,’ increased labor, and ‘consumer choice’".
The authors warn that they see “student government elections being used as tools to imagine new directions for the institution without having accountability practices in place.” They believe that understanding the role of neoliberalism in student government campaigns is useful because of the influence of student government leaders on college campuses and beyond.
They caution that the student leaders, knowingly or unknowingly, were assuming responsibilities that should be on the institutions themselves. They wrote, “Thus furthering the neoliberal ideals of upholding power dynamics through capitalism and less labor on those whom the responsibility should lay.”
To read the full research, visit: https://www.naca.org/resource/jcaps-issue-11-goodman.html