Understanding scandal: UT’s Department of Theatre and Dance discusses corporate culture and corruption

Kateri David

Separate fields came together Sunday morning as distinguished business speakers sat alongside UT ENRON cast members in the Winship Drama Building, kickstarting the first in a series of discussions on toxic masculinity, controversy and gender.

UT’s Department of Theatre and Dance hosted the all-day symposium Friday as a follow-up dialogue to their all-women and non-binary production of Lucy Prebble’s ENRON, a play based on the 2001 massive financial scandal.

“Inside of an organization, culture trumps rules,” said Robert Prentice, panelist and UT department chair of business, government and society. “People respond to incentives, and Enron was so focused on the question, ‘How can we bump up the stock price?’ that they lost track of the thing that’s of true importance, which is leading an honorable life.” 

According to the production’s web page, the goal of the first session was to explore the culture of the real Enron to better understand the scandal’s magnitude.

Sherron Watkins, UT business alumna and famed Enron whistle-blower, said she enjoyed the play’s depiction of Enron CEO Kenneth Lay’s stock price obsession. 

“As an employee at Enron in the 90s, you were constantly getting (stock) options thrown at you,” Watkins said. “It makes the whole population personally invested in the market, shooting down anyone who wants to bring up bad news.” 

Panelists also discussed theories of moral corrosion on a personal level. Minette Drumwright, panelist and advertising associate professor, said moral myopia may be to blame.

“Ethical dimensions just fade away when someone allows themselves to be consumed by self-interest,” Drumwright said. “And really good people are susceptible to this through making lots of rationalizations.”

Drumwright said she personally knew former head of Enron International Rebecca Mark prior to the scandal and did not think of her as a person who intended to do harm.

“I think this male model of work engulfed her and kept her from being a more admirable whistle-blower,” Drumwright said. The idea of destructive workplace masculinity pervaded the first discussion. After the talk, Elise Peterson, theatre and dance senior, said UT’s ENRON explores this theme through its casting. 

“For me, watching the production highlighted a lot of the language used,” Peterson said. “If a man had said it on stage, it would have been like ‘Ok, that’s just how guys are,’ but seeing a woman perform and say it called attention to language in a way that we don’t usually see.”