Sacred Heart University students, from left, Team Captain Trevor Kelly ’13, Gabby McNamara ’15, Vinny Ebenau ’14 and Brent Middleton ’15, participated in the Northeast Regional Ethics Bowl on December 1. Photo by Mike Lauterborn (contributed photo)
FAIRFIELD, CT - In classroom settings that seemed more like courtrooms, Sacred Heart students battled teams from other colleges in the Northeast Regional Ethics Bowl held December 1, 2012, at Sacred Heart University. The SHU team, competing for the very first time, was among more than 25 teams participating in the intercollegiate match, seeking to move on to the 17th Annual Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl in late February 2013 in San Antonio, Texas.
A total of 14 teams were at SHU on Saturday, including Dartmouth College, Marist University, Manhattan College, Buffalo State College, Colgate University, Franklin Pierce University, Moravian College, Notre Dame of Maryland, St. John’s University (NY), St. Joseph’s University (NY), Stevens Institute of Technology, the United States Merchant Marine Academy, Villanova University and West Point. The Colgate team eventually prevailed and will move on to the next stage of the competition.
The Ethics Bowl gives students the opportunity to participate in an academic competition, combining excitement with a valuable educational experience in practical and professional ethics. The teams are presented with complex moral dilemmas and challenged to define, argue and defend their position. Questions speak to a wide range of topics in business and professional ethics, personal relationships and social and political affairs. Cases are developed by ethics faculty, researchers and professionals. In the course of the competition, students must demonstrate their understanding of the facts of each case and articulate the related ethical principles. For many Ethics Bowl competitors, this is one of the most important college activities in which they will participate.
Dr. Seamus Carey, SHU’s dean of the College of Arts & Sciences and a professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies, welcomed the gathering and noted that Sacred Heart was very proud to host the event. “The Ethics Bowl has been growing exponentially. It’s really important and exemplary of the type of education we are trying to foster: expanded learning beyond the classroom. The faculty and students have been working really hard to study and learn the intricacies of ethics, debate, social action and concern,” he said.
This year’s student competitors from Sacred Heart included Team Captain Trevor Kelly ’13, Gabby McNamara ’15, Vinny Ebenau ’14 and Brent Middleton ’15. Their faculty guides were Ono Ekeh, assistant professor of Religious Studies, and Gordon Purves, assistant professor of Philosophy. The group began preparing in early October.
Teams were given topics in advance, ranging from the legalization of drugs and the appropriateness of rape jokes in public to policy positions in government and law, Ekeh said.
Ebenau said it takes a certain personality type to effectively compete. “A good skill to have is thinking outside the box,” he noted. “You have to be able to think from a variety of experience, on your feet, with confidence and good presentation.”
Ekeh said competitors must also be prepared to argue both sides of the table. “We’re not sure what side we’ll have to defend. You have to prepare to defend against the opposition.”
There were three rounds in the opening competition, with two cases argued by each pairing of teams in each round. SHU’s opponents for the morning included Notre Dame, St. John’s and the U.S. Merchant Marine, in that order. In the opening round, the moderator was Brian Marks, an adjunct professor of Political Science at SHU. Three judges presided as well, monitoring, questioning participants and scoring the competition. The judges were Victoria Ferrara, Esq, a Fairfield attorney and litigator; Kathy LaFontana, former SHU chair of the Psychology Department and now the associate dean of Arts & Sciences at the College of New Rochelle; and Jennifer Scuro, chair of Philosophy & Religious Studies at the College of New Rochelle.
“It’s exciting to see Sacred Heart students participate in this and to have the Ethics Bowl come to the school. It’s good publicity and allows the school to show off the new and exciting things happening here,” LaFontana said.
The first dilemma presented to the Sacred Heart and Notre Dame teams was “Is there a moral difference between bequeathing $80 million to ensure the care of a beloved animal companion and an identical bequest to one’s offspring? Why or why not?” Decided by coin toss, Sacred Heart offered the opening argument, setting into motion an ethical debate that brought into question the value we assign to human and animal lives, the judgment of the will maker and the obligation to follow the instructions of a legal document.
The Sacred Heart team made it through the morning rounds, and it was a wonderful experience for all involved, said June-Ann Greeley, associate professor of Theology and Religious Studies, who was instrumental in bringing the event to Sacred Heart. “Team coaches, students and visitors all complimented SHU on the friendliness and sense of community they experienced while on campus.”
Greeley gives credit to the dedicated team that helped her successfully put on the event, including students, faculty, staff, administrators and friends of the University. “Everyone is so busy with end-of-semester madness that it was a great commitment give up a Saturday to take on the task of judging or moderating. I am extremely grateful to everyone who participated or helped behind the scenes,” she said. She gives a special acknowledgement to Kim Macomber, reference librarian, and Barbara Gerwien, administrative assistant at the library, for their invaluable contributions to the planning and execution of the event.