MU debates ethics of using endowment from Enron

Friday, July 9, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:39 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

Until a verdict is reached in Kenneth Lay’s trial, MU’s Department of Economics will remain endowed by Enron Corp.’s former CEO.

Lay, a Hickman and MU alumnus, pleaded not guilty Thursday to multiple counts of fraud and insider trading related to the spectacular collapse of the giant energy trader in late 2001. But the Kenneth L. Lay Chair in Economics will serve as a reminder of the $1.2 million gift the MU alumnus gave the university in 1998 and the search will continue for a candidate who has the “scholarly achievements” to fill the position.

“We’re not going to speculate on the outcome, and we won’t make a decision until the judicial process has run its course,” MU spokesman Christian Basi said.

Michael Podgursky, chairman of the economics department, declined to comment.

Some members of the MU Faculty Council say that if Lay is convicted, MU’s integrity will be tarnished unless the gifts are returned. Faculty Council member Rex Campbell said the University of Missouri Board of Curators, which established the chair, won’t address the endowment until the judicial process is complete.

“The question is, under what circumstances, was that money earned or taken by more fraudulent means?” Campbell said. “Because there is that possible smear on it, keeping it would not reflect well on the university.”

In February 2002, two months after Enron declared bankruptcy, Campbell was among 28 professors who wrote a letter to the faculty expressing concern about the university’s connection with the Houston-based company. The same year, the Faculty Council executive committee met with MU Chancellor Richard Wallace and Provost Brady Deaton about the donation, but MU decided to keep the endowment.

Faculty Council chairman Gordon Christensen said that the council has not yet made plans to discuss Lay’s endowment in the wake of his indictment. However, he said, members can ask to put the issue on the agenda at any point. The council can only recommend what curators should do, he said.

“I am sure there will be some people who want to wait until something actually happens,” Christensen said, “but there are some faculty who are very concerned about this, and for good reason.”

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