Former Enron CFO cancels controversial presentation

2 months ago 1

Andrew Fastow, former Chief Financial Officer of Enron, canceled his appearance at Sam Houston State University after five professors publicly objected to his visit by submitting a letter to The Houstonian.

Fastow was originally scheduled to appear Tuesday afternoon as a guest speaker at the “Rules vs. Principles” event put together by members of the SHSU accounting department and Compliance Officer Joseph Agins.

“I have spoken with many students, faculty and staff who were very excited to attend and viewed this event as a positive learning opportunity for the campus community,” Agins said. “My colleagues and I worked very hard to make this event happen and started planning it nearly a year ago, So, I think to say we are disappointed is an understatement.”

The former CFO of Enron was scheduled to present on business ethics. Fastow pleaded guilty to two counts of wire and securities fraud in 2004, which landed him a six-year prison sentence for his role in the accounting scandal that brought down the seventh-largest corporation in the United States. He was released from prison in 2011. Since then, he speaks publicly about his role in one of the biggest corporate collapses in American history. SHSU was not paying Fastow for his presentation.

“I think Mr. Fastow has plenty of opportunities to speak publicly and in the newspaper about his position,” Assistant Professor of History Jeffrey Littlejohn, a co-author of the Letter to the Editor, said. “But I don’t think he has any role to play in educating undergraduate or graduate students in business at Sam in business ethics.”

Along with Littlejohn, Assistant Professor of German Ervin Malakaj, History Lecturers Zachary Doleshal, Zachary Montz and Aaron Hyams expressed their concerns about Fastow speaking to students in their letter last Friday. The full letter can be found here.

“Fastow’s appearance at SHSU only helps him profit from his criminality,” the professors stated in the Letter to the Editor. “Although he is not being paid for his speech here, Fastow is reported to be paid for speeches in professional settings. Speaking at the invitation of the accounting department and the university’s compliance officer lends Fastow the veneer of professional and moral respectability that allows him to continue to enjoy the fruits of his fraud. In this sense, Sam Houston State is being used.”

Controversial guest speakers at public universities have been a hot topic as of late. Right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak at the University of California, Berkley during the university’s Free Speech Week last month before protests shut down the event.

Nearly 100 faculty members at the University of North Texas signed an open letter protesting Donald Trump Jr. as a guest speaker. The open letter condemned the university, saying the invitation was disrespectful to women, people of color and LGBTQ members of the community.

The authors’ intent of the letter was not to protest Fastow’s invitation, Hyams said, but to shed light on the reasons why he was brought and accepting to speak on campus.

“We were certainty not trying to see his invitation revoked, rescinded nor was there any intended state of protesting his presence on campus,” Hyams said. “We would’ve rather that he hadn’t have been invited, and that was a mistake, but since he was coming that perhaps opens up a chance to reflect more generally on the fact that white-collared criminals live in a very different justice system than the many prisoners we have here in Huntsville around us.”

While some have been concerned about Fastow’s right to free speech in this situation, Littlejohn said, it is important to acknowledge that Fastow was never stopped from attending. However, it is important to note that the university offers free speech areas and there is a distinct difference between allowing someone to speak freely and promoting their speech through an event.“I understand people who have concerns about freedom of speech,” Littlejohn said. “And we certainty do not want to squelch freedom of speech.”

Agins and members who helped set up “Rules vs. Principles” are trying to get the event rescheduled. On the other side, Littlejohn, Malakaj, Doleshal, Montz and Hyams are trying to schedule an event for later this semester to discuss the Enron case, corporate fraud, whistleblowers and business ethics.

Specific details for both events will be announced in the next couple of weeks. Stay up-to-date with The Houstonian for more information.