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Richard Miller
Director, Poynter Center

Last modified: Tuesday, March 10, 2009

IU Ethics Bowl team wins national competition

March 10, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Indiana University Ethics Bowl team won the 15th Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl Competition on March 5 in Cincinnati. The competition began in the fall with 10 regional bowl competitions and then 32 teams advanced to the national event.

Ethics Bowl

The winners at the national competition in Cincinnati: Shana Bergen (left), Devin Carpenter, Dylan Pittman, Neil Shah, Laura Goins, Rachel Morris and Richard Miller.

IU beat the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in a narrowly contested quarterfinal round and bested the University of Miami in the semifinal round. In the final match, IU beat Clemson, the defending champion.

The 2008-09 team members are:

  • Devin Carpenter, a junior majoring in philosophy, religious studies and political science
  • Laura Goins, a sophomore majoring in math and philosophy
  • Rachel Morris, a sophomore majoring in interdepartmental political science and philosophy
  • Dylan Pittman, a sophomore majoring in political science, economics and Spanish
  • Neil Shah, a senior majoring in economics, mathematics and finance, a four-year member of the team

The team was coached by Shana Bergen from the Philosophy Department at IU. Sandra Shapshay, also from the Philosophy Department, was the faculty advisor, and Richard Miller, director of the Poynter Center and professor in the Department of Religious Studies, was the team sponsor.

In advance of the competition, teams receive 15 cases to analyze with an eye toward ethical dimensions and quandaries. Each team then develops extensive arguments justifying one line of action or another to resolve the moral tensions that each case poses. Team members also develop arguments in light of possible objections they might face from opposing teams and judges.

In each round of the competition, one team is matched against another. Team A is asked a question about a case and a member of that team is given 10 minutes to explain what action his or her group recommends and why. The opposing Team B then comments on and challenges the first team's answer. Team A is required to respond to Team B's critique. Finally, the judges ask Team A questions about its position and responses to the opposing team's challenges. In the second portion of each match, roles are reversed.

Three judges then evaluate each team's presentation, critiques and responses. Typically, each match lasts more than an hour, and all presentations, critiques and responses must be done from memory. All 32 teams compete in three matches in the morning. The top eight teams from the morning competition move on to compete in the quarterfinals, semifinals and final matches in a single-elimination format.

"The most striking aspect of the team's performance is the fact that each team member weighed in with a supporting comment or argument during the portion of the competition devoted to on-the-spot critique and response," said team sponsor Miller. "They showed collective command of the ideas, concepts and relevant facts regarding each case under review.

"On several occasions judges assigned IU a perfect 10 for this component of the competition. At the conclusion of the competition, a large audience of scholars in ethics from around the country rose to give the IU team a standing ovation -- richly deserved," Miller said.

In IU's final case, the team was asked whether the U.S. has a moral responsibility to convene an international conference to craft a treaty banning killer robots. IU's Devin Carpenter argued at length that the U.S. does not have a moral responsibility to ban killer robots, but given some of the putative benefits of including such robots for some military contingencies, the U.S. should take the lead in crafting a treaty to restrict the use and types of robots.

The Poynter Center has sponsored the IU Ethics Bowl team since 2001. The national competition is presented as part of the annual meeting of Association for Practical and Profession Ethics.

See for information about the competition and about previous teams.