MU professor Haslag named Kenneth Lay Chair in Economics

Monday, April 21, 2008 | 10:13 p.m. CDT; updated 9:42 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
Ken Lay's portrait hangs on the wall in Lowry Hall at MU. Lay, whose family moved here while he was in high school, holds a master's degree in economics from MU. In 1999, Lay gave $1.1 million to endow the Kenneth Lay Chair in Economics.

COLUMBIA — The MU Economics Department has finally hired a professor for the department’s Kenneth Lay Chair in Economics, a position it has struggled to fill for nearly a decade.

Lay, an MU alumnus, donated $1.1 million of Enron stock in 1999 to fund the chair.

After years of attempting to use the chair to bring in world-renowned economists from other universities, the College of Arts and Science has now decided to give it to one of their own, Joseph Haslag.

He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MU and his doctorate from Southern Methodist University. He has been employed at MU since 2000.

As Lay Chair, Haslag will be paid $150,000 for the academic year.

Lay was CEO of Enron from 1986 until 2002. The company declared bankruptcy in 2001. Enron’s bankruptcy and collapse caused the loss of more than 4,000 jobs and $2.1 billion in pension plans. The company and Lay’s name subsequently were associated with shoddy accounting practices and white-collar crime. The Missourian reported in 2002 that MU raised $1.1 million when it sold Lay’s donated Enron stock in 1999.

In 2002, MU faculty members spoke out against the university’s ties to Lay and acceptance of such a large donation from him.

Professor Emeritus Haskell Hinnant was one of the faculty members to speak out, but now thinks that Lay’s stigma is fading with time and the greater issue is MU’s difficulty filling the position.

“It’s a little embarrassing that they weren’t able to fill it with an outside person,” Hinnant said. “But the university has other embarrassments, too.”

Michael O’Brien, dean of MU’s College of Arts and Science, said the department made four offers to faculty at other universities, all of which were topped by counteroffers from the professors’ home institutions.

“We know what we’re up against in this arms race,” O’Brien said.

However, O’Brien maintains that Haslag is a good candidate for the chair position.

“We’re just delighted to be able to use the chair to retain one of the outstanding faculty members in Arts and Science,” he said.

Professor Emeritus Rex Campbell, who spoke out in 2002 against Lay’s donation, said he still thinks that filling the chair position could be damaging to the MU’s reputation.

“I don’t know what the impact is going to be immediately,” he said.

Haslag said that his duties will not change significantly with his new position.

“My position is to continue to do as high quality economic research as I can and to teach students here at MU,” he said.

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