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Richard Miller
Director, Poynter Center

Last modified: Thursday, November 17, 2011

IU Ethics Bowl team wins regional competition

Nov. 17, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- What is the best ethical response to the Florida minister who burned a copy of the Quran, despite pleas from various political and religious officials urging him not to, even if it was a constitutional act?

This is just one of the complex ethical issues addressed recently by the Indiana University Ethics Bowl team during the Central States Regional Ethics Bowl at Marian University in Indianapolis. The team, sponsored by the Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions at IU Bloomington, won first place in the regional competition and will compete in the National Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl in March.

2011 Ethics Bowl

From left, the team members are IU Bloomington students Olufemi Taiwo, Kyle Fletcher, Sara Shapiro, Grant Manon and Charlie Zhang.

Print-Quality Photo

The Ethics Bowl competition is an opportunity for undergraduate students to deliberate about and resolve difficult ethical cases and controversies. Each team consists of four to five undergraduate students. The students receive 15 cases to analyze in advance, six of which are used in the eventual competition. Each round consists of a case presented to the teams, who must respond to the case and to the opposing team in front of Ethics Bowl judges.

"The cases presented to teams have no single or obvious question," said team sponsor Richard Miller, director of the Poynter Center. "When the team prepares its position, then, it must first ascertain the ethical stakes involved in each case along with several -- and sometimes conflicting -- dimensions of the case. The team must defend a resolution to what appears to be the case's core problem and anticipate objections from the competing teams and the judges."

The Central States Regional Ethics Bowl included 22 teams from 19 colleges and universities. The IU Bloomington team competed against Eastern Kentucky University, Wright State University and Ripon College. The national competition includes the top 32 teams from 10 regional events.

IU has hosted teams under the sponsorship of the Poynter Center since 2001. Previous teams won the regional in 2007 and the national competition in 2004 and 2009. The 2011 team members are:

  • Kyle Fletcher, a senior from Greenwood, Ind., majoring in philosophy and economics
  • Grant Manon, a freshman from Kendallville, Ind., majoring in finance, political science and economics
  • Sara Shapiro, a senior from Newton, Mass., majoring in economics and philosophy
  • Olufemi Taiwo, a senior from Carmel, Ind., majoring in political science, economics and philosophy
  • Charlie Zhang, a senior from Greenwood, Ind., majoring in economics, mathematics and finance

Fletcher and Taiwo have participated in Ethics Bowl competitions for three years, and Shapiro was on the 2008-09 team. Manon and Zhang are new to Ethics Bowl this year. The team coach is Luke P. Phillips, a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at IU Bloomington. Valerie Aquila, a Ph.D. student in the IU School of Journalism, is the assistant coach. The adviser is Sandy Shapshay, assistant professor of philosophy at IU Bloomington.

Phillips, coach of the Ethics Bowl teams for the past three years, said the team's achievement is the result of natural ability combined with frequent practice. "During practice, no idea or opinion is off limits for any reason, but every position is scrutinized mercilessly. The result is that each student has seen the issues from many sides, holds a defensible position and can easily express thoughtful supporting reasons. They also hone the skill of critiquing others carefully and diplomatically," he said.

Taiwo agreed. "The real reward of Ethics Bowl is in the opportunity before the competition to think, argue in-depth and learn with our teammates and coach," he said.

Miller, the Poynter Center's director, said the Ethics Bowl "provides a unique opportunity for IU Bloomington undergraduates to deepen their understanding of ethical concepts and how those concepts can guide individual behavior or institutional policy. It challenges students to think about how to evaluate the merits of human decision-making. The IU team is stunning in its level of commitment, intellectual alacrity and work ethic. I'm proud of the team and coaches, and look forward to sponsoring their work as they prepare for the national event in March."

For more information, contact Richard Miller,, 812-855-0261, or visit

The Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions is supported in part by the Office of the Vice Provost for Research at IU Bloomington. OVPR is dedicated to supporting ongoing faculty research and creative activity, developing new multidisciplinary initiatives and maximizing the potential of faculty to accomplish pathbreaking work.