SRU Ethics Bowl demands critical thinking


Ethics Bowl team from 2016

Slippery Rock University students from the 2016 second annual Ethics Bowl. The third annual event will happen at 9 a.m., March 25 in the Spotts World Culture Building.

March 9, 2017

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - When students solve Algebraic equations or test chemicals in the lab, they are assured that every question will be resolved with a definitive answer.

But when it comes to large-scale ethical dilemmas such as the Syrian Refugee Crisis or using drones in military combat, the answers are rarely black or white.

Andrew Winters, instructor of philosophy, understands that challenge, but believes that there is an answer to everything, and that it is worth spending the time and effort to drill down through the obvious to reach ethical conclusions.

Slippery Rock University will put that thinking into action when it hosts its third annual campuswide Ethics Bowl from 9 a.m. to noon, March 25 in Spotts World Culture Building. The Ethics Bowl allows teams of 3-5 students to confront ethically complex and controversial cases, and ultimately, to contend for justice.

"We have a total of 8 teams representing SRU this year," said Winters, co-organizer of the event with associate professor of philosophy Andrew Colvin.

Andrew Winters


"We are also fortunate to be welcoming 2 teams from Youngstown State University, 1 from Hiram College and 1 from Grove City College."

An outgrowth of the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl developed in 1993 at the Illinois Institute of Technology, SRU's competition is posed quiz bowl style. A panel of judges will select 4 of 5 predetermined case studies, ranging from personal rights to national policies, and present questions to two teams at a time.

Teams will be offered response and rebuttal periods, which will be scored for consensual presentations, consistent positions and case-by-case relevancy.

"We are trying to motivate students to move beyond the obvious legal and political issues at hand, which may be difficult," said Winters. "Judges will be assessing, not only the clarity of the responses or the positions that the members make, but more specifically the moral principles that are relevant to the case."

While the bowl is structured similarly to a debate, the competition's ultimate goal is to unify over common objectives rather than divide over controversies.

"In a debate, each person takes an opposing position, whereas in the Ethics Bowl, our concern is to replicate civil discourse about ethical issues. That may even end in both teams agreeing with one another, but the point is to propel an organic conversation forward," said Winters.

In order to advance such a discussion, teams require a diversity of perspectives. Ethics Bowl team members will be comprised of not simply philosophy or ethics majors but also students in various fields of study including exercise science, health care management, physics, math and English.

"No matter what your background is, ethics are something that we should all have to carefully think about. Every person can offer a unique strength and perspective," said Winters.

Winters, who led the University of Colorado Denver to 5th place in the 2012 National Ethics Bowl, also took SRU teams to regional competitions in 2015 and 2016. He hopes to continue training SRU students in the future with the goal of nationals.

The ultimate goal, however, is to provide students a vehicle for answering ethical dilemmas and voicing moral concerns in their communities.

"I think we are seeing a lot of people who are morally frustrated with the political climate or contemporary controversies, but they simply don't have the vocabulary or tools to express their feelings," said Winters.

"The Ethics Bowl will help students as well as the University community develop those critical thinking and ethical skills. It is fun, but it's also extremely important in searching for those answers, because they're always there."

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