Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Whitworth is the most ethical school in America, apparently

Posted on Tue, Mar 6, 2012 at 10:48 AM

Whitworth University took home the top prize at the National Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl in Cincinnati on Friday, beating Clemson University, Wake Forest, and Weber State, among others. It's the third time in the last four years that the little university in north Spokane has placed in the top five. 

A coup, for sure, but it begs the question: What the devil is an Ethics Bowl?

We asked the team's advisor, communications professor Mike Ingram, for a wrap-up.

What exactly is the Ethics Bowl, and how does that differ from a regular debate tournament?

The Association for Practical and Professional Ethics sponsors this bowl, with regional competitions in the fall and the national bowl in the spring. In a round, two teams compete against each other in front of three judges, who are usually a combination of ethics professionals and practitioners. A round includes two different cases on diverse subjects. After the judges hear both teams present and respond on two cases, they render scores and the winner of the round is announced.

This differs from debate in that ethics bowl teams might partially agree on a course of action or the use of a particular ethics theory. It also allows for some nuance in the argumentation. 

What kind of competition did Whitworth face this year? Who were the toughest opponents?

Whitworth defeated Eckerd College of Florida, Loyola University of Chicago and the U of California-Santa Cruz in the three preliminary rounds. Then we defeated Weber State U and Wake Forest U before defeating Clemson U in the finals. Clemson is a past national champion and perennial power. Since the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl was founded in 1994, Whitworth is the first small university to win the bowl. Last year we were in the semifinals, and it was great to get in the final round this year and win.

What sorts of questions did Whitworth have to tackle, and how did the final round play out?

Whitworth's team analyzed 15 ethically complex cases pertaining to topics such as multi-user online role-playing game players who engage in virtual romantic and sexual relationships and then want to continue them in the real world; a Mississippi governor who required a jailed sister to donate a kidney to her jailed sister as a condition of prison release, both in the final round. Other cases included the federal government using graphic pictures as warning labels on cigarette packing; assessing the moral obligations of France and Italy to Tunisian refugees seeking asylum; states selling state-run lottery operations to private corporations; proposed limitations on whistleblowers in the meat industry; and weighing the benefits of destroying levees to save small towns at the expense of farmland.

Considering they can now rightfully call themselves the most ethical college students in the country, don't the members of the team deserve, say, a one-day ethical holiday?

They took a day to sleep after traveling across three time zones on early-morning airplane flights going to and from Ohio. That seemed the most ethical thing to do.

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