Students to compete in National Ethics Bowl

February 19 2007

Should parents use cell phones with global positioning systems to track their children? Is affirmative action no longer needed in South Africa? Should new homes be built in a Sacramento, Calif., flood plain?

Those are among actual ethical dilemmas a team of Indiana State University students may debate Thursday (Feb. 22) during the national Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl in Cincinnati.

ISU's three-member team, in just its second year of competition, advanced to the national event from regional competition in Indianapolis.

�These are very difficult problems but the team tries to find a rational solution to these dilemmas even though maybe there is not one correct answer. The point of rational discussion is to show that some answers are better than others,� said Joseph Grcic, associate professor of philosophy and one of three faculty advisors to the team. �I�m very proud of this team. They have worked so hard to be in the regional and now they�re working even harder.�

Brian Morton, assistant professor of philosophy and also an advisor, estimates the team spends approximately seven hours per week preparing for regional and national competitions.

�They research all the details. They outline arguments and then practice running the arguments back and forth. They even switch which side they�re on. We give them notes about what we thought worked and didn�t work and they�ll refine the arguments again,� Morton said.

�These cases are picked specifically for ethical dilemmas,� said team captain Nathan �Hobbes� Woudenberg, a senior philosophy and English major from Atlanta, Mich. �If we�re not making it so that it can go multiple ways we�re not doing our job. With every case, there�s a knife�s edge we have to walk. We have to very clearly show why our position is the better ethical position because there is always that ambiguity and complexity.�

Teammate Jason Carruthers, a legal studies major from Atlanta, Ga., said the ethics bowl provides �a unique opportunity to talk with other educated people and our professors about serious things that can affect our lives and issues. �Just because someone disagrees with you it isn�t because they�re being stupid. They could really have a reason behind it. Issues aren�t always as simple as we would like to make them out to be,� Carruthers said.

Anna Kelly was recruited by Woudenberg to join the team because �he wanted to get other people involved,� Kelly said. As the only female on the team, or as she put it, the only one with �two X chromosomes,� she quipped that she brings a more logical approach to the debate than her teammates.

�I kind of hold up the science end of things,� said Kelly, a senior from Danville, Ill., with a triple major: science education, chemistry education and earth science education.

�The ethics bowl competition has given me a chance to look at the way I reason. It has provided an opportunity for me, and my teammates, to �practice� the ways we approach an ethical dilemma. I feel much more comfortable presenting an argument of mine now than I did last fall,� Kelly said.

Asked what has been the most challenging case of the dozens the team has debated, Kelly didn�t hesitate before replying, �Probably the deaf case,� a response that drew unanimous agreement from her teammates.

The case in question involves a lesbian couple, both deaf, who recruited a deaf friend to serve as a sperm donor, resulting in the birth of a child completely deaf in one ear and with severe hearing loss in the other.

�What it gets down to is that it�s about saying who should reproduce in this society and who shouldn�t reproduce. It�s about saying, �Is deafness really even a disability?� and to what degree we should be able to impose on another person�s decision,� said Carruthers.

Business scandals of a few years ago, such as Enron and Worldcom, have sparked greater interest in ethics and ISU philosophy professors are working with the university�s College of Business to expand the teaching of business ethics, Grcic said.

�Ethics bowls, both at the national and regional levels, are done by private organizations of business people. Business people from all over the spectrum � lawyers, accountants, and CEOs � volunteer their time to act as judges. I�m impressed by how interested the business community is in trying to get college students to think more seriously about ethics,� he said.

The Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl is sponsored by the Center for the Study of Ethics in the Profession at Illinois Institute of Technology. In the competition, a moderator poses questions to teams of three to five students, with questions taken from a set of ethical issues provided in advance. Judges evaluate each team�s answers based upon such criteria as intelligibility, focus on ethical relevance and deliberative thoughtfulness.

Indiana State's team is one of four from Indiana, and 32 from around the country, that have advanced to national competition during the annual meeting of the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics at the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza Hotel.

Contact: Joseph Grcic, associate professor of philosophy, Indiana State University, (812) 237-8443 or jgrcic@isugw.indstate.edu

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Indiana State University, (812) 237-3743 or dave.taylor@indstate.edu

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Story Highlights

Indiana State University is among 32 institutions from around the country to have a team competing in the National Intercollegiate Ethics Feb. 22 in Cincinnati. The team, in just its second year of operation, advanced from reginal competition in Indianapolis.

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