With graduation around the corner, I constantly find myself in whimsical dialogues about career plans. Combined with the usual comments concerning the abysmal state of the job market, one pattern is certainly clear – a great number of my friends intend to enter America’s corporate sector.
Many students have spent their undergraduate tenure training under the auspices of GW’s School of Business and Public Management. In one manner or another, many of today’s college graduates will come to be associated with the vast number of corporate entities that comprise the world’s leading economy. This is why the growing Enron investigation is of the utmost importance to members of my generation.
On the surface, morality is not a quality that many associate with the typical college experience. While morality may be a familiar topic of philosophy class discussions, many college students don’t have time to ponder moral issues during extended benders at bars or bed-hopping. Doubtless, concepts of right and wrong play an insignificant role in my daydreams of a new bottle of scotch. But morality is an absolute necessity when exiting the suspended reality of an undergraduate education.
When listening to fellow students speak of possible positions with large consulting firms, major corporations and investment companies, I often find myself in the position of holding my tongue. This is not something I do often. I simply want to ask why. I want to probe this potential maven of corporate affairs as to what their supposed company of choice does to make money, how they make it and how that may affect some plumber in Poughkeepsie. Enron serves as an example of why these questions are essential.
Despite Enron’s former status as the country’s seventh-largest corporation, it still managed to sap the very lifeblood from individuals who served the company for the better part of their lives. At some point, the moral compass of Enron’s management underwent a radical transformation, leaving many with large capital losses on their investments, while the privileged few had golden parachutes.
With this in mind, it is essential that young men and women seeking to weave themselves into the fabric of corporate America ask themselves simple questions of right and wrong. While Enron may serve as an extreme example of corporate America gone awry, there is the simple truth that material wealth in our country is highly concentrated among a cabal-like group of individuals who often benefit from the misfortunes of others.
It is easy to write the heads of Enron off as sinister despots tantamount to comic book villains. But this simply is not the case. These people are human beings who climbed up the company ladder, much in the same way GW alumni do. I would even venture to say the former heads of Enron deviate only slightly from today’s SBPM graduate. What separates Enron from so many other corporate entities is that the heads of Enron got caught.
What is entirely scary about the Enron scandal is that it is only the most recent event in a long and storied history of corporate abuse of the average worker. Watching the nightly news and being made aware of the devious nature of many of Enron’s officers’ acts may work to shock the common viewer, but it is nothing new. The true difference here is a matter of cleanliness. Enron disguised its transgressions behind a facade of investing and money placement. While such actions may seem relatively innocuous, they are, in essence, just as dirty and indecent as the methods employed by the oppressive corporations we read about in history textbooks.
It is high time we cease looking at American corporations as faithful servants of the American lifestyle and begin viewing them for what they are, profit-motivated networks that let little stand in the way of enriching management. With this in mind, I ask this year’s graduates to apply even a shred of morality and ask yourself, “Who will I really be working for?”
-The writer is a senior majoring in political science.