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IU Ethics Bowl team wins regional competition

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 do such a controversial thing, even if it was a constitutional act?

Ethics Bowl Team

The IU Ethics Bowl team won first place in the 2011 regional competition, and in this photo they are posing with the team's trophy. From left to right are Olufemi Taiwo, Kyle Fletcher, Sara Shapiro, Grant Manon and Charlie Zhang.

Print-Quality Photo

This and other ethical issues were addressed by the Indiana University Ethics Bowl team at the Central States Regional Ethics Bowl on Nov. 12 at Marion University in Indianapolis. The team, sponsored by the Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions, won first place in the regional and will move on to compete in the National Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl on March 1 in Cincinnati.

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 who have received 15 cases in advance to analyze in light of the cases' ethical dimensions and tensions. The teams don't know which six cases will be used or what question will be posed during the competition.

Each round consists of a case and question presented to teams that are paired up to challenge each other. The first team answers its question in a seven-minute presentation, after which its opposing team responds with questions and critique. The first team replies to those questions, after which the judges pose new questions and challenges to the presenting team. Each part of the competition is timed, and once the first team's time is up, the second case and question are presented to the opposing team. The teams reverse roles to complete an entire round.

The Central States Regional Ethics Bowl included 22 teams from 19 colleges and universities. The IU 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 IU teams won the regional in 2007 and the national competition in 2004 and 2009.

The IU 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 and interdepartmental political science and economics.
  • Sara Shapiro, a senior from Newton, Mass., majoring in economics and philosophy. She is also in the Liberal Arts and Management Program.
  • 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 each participated three years in Ethics Bowl, and Shapiro was also on the 2008-09 team. Manon and Zhang are new to Ethics Bowl this year. The coach is Luke P. Phillips, a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy. Valerie Aquila, a Ph.D. student in the School of Journalism, is the assistant coach. The adviser is Professor Sandy Shapshay from philosophy. Professor Richard Miller, director of the Poynter Center and faculty member in religious studies, is the sponsor.

Luke Phillips, the IU team coach the past three years, noted, "Their high achievement is the result of their natural drive and abilities, together with our frequent, focused practice sessions. During practice no idea or opinion is off limits for any reason, but every position is scrutinized mercilessly.

"This fun but rigorous atmosphere allows the students to speak freely while being held accountable for justifying every claim they make. The result is that each of them 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."

Taiwo agreed, saying, "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."

Richard Miller, director of the Poynter Center, said, "The Ethics Bowl provides a unique opportunity for IU 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. It also enables students to refine their powers of analysis and argumentation.

"The cases presented to teams have no single or obvious question. 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. It must defend a resolution to what appears to be the case's core problem and to anticipate objections from the competition and the judges. 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."