IU Ethics Bowl continues winning tradition and heads to nationals

Guest post courtesy of IU Newsroom intern Annie Brackemyre

“Ethics in public policy” is more often a punch line than an exercise in civil discourse.

However, the IU Ethics Bowl team is seeking to change this precedent after beating 24 teams from 14 other universities at the Central States Regional Ethics Bowl hosted by Marian University last fall. Now, for the fourth time, IU Bloomington will send a team to the national Ethics Bowl competition. It takes place Feb. 22 in Costa Mesa, Calif.

IU Ethics Bowl team

Pictured are students who competed for IU Bloomington in the regional Ethics Bowl last fall: from left, Shayna Goldsmith, Nikhil Nandu, Radhika Agarwal, Rafal Swiatkowski, Ali Henke, Grant Manon, John Hanks; and Marian University Ethics Bowl organizer Karen Spear. Nandu, Agarwal, Henke, Manon and Hanks will represent the university in the national competition.

Heading into regionals, IU sponsored two teams, Team Crimson and Team Cream. Each university is allowed to send only one team to the national competition. Luckily, the teams were easily consolidated after one member graduated in December and one could not continue due to a scheduling conflict.

Head coach Joe Bartzel, a graduate student at IU, argues that the team’s strength is the diversity of its members.

“Our students bring a wide variety of knowledge bases. Our team outperforms other teams because of their varied backgrounds and different majors. There isn’t any part of a case that we overlook because we all approach it with a different lens,” said Bartzel.

The new team practices to shape positive discourse by debating ethical guidelines in the context of modern cases. At the regional competition it debated the ethical issues involved in cases such as Haiti’s demands of reparations as a result of peacekeepers introducing cholera, the website Jezebel’s posting of a bounty for unretouched photos of Lena Dunham and the use of public shaming as punishment, among others.

The team received 15 potential case topics for nationals six weeks in advance. Although case topics vary, they all raise issues of practical or professional ethics. Topics for this year’s competition include discussion over keeping or raising the minimum wage, how much control big agricultural companies should have over farmers and the legitimacy of using the atomic bomb in World War II.

At nationals, the IU team will compete in a series of debates against an opposing team.  A moderator will pose previously unannounced questions for one of the already distributed cases. The teams are able to both disagree and try to debunk the opposing team’s argument or, equally common, try to augment and strengthen it.  A panel of judges will follow with additional questions asking each team to further substantiate its responses.

The teams are then judged on their comprehensiveness, consistency, clarity and ethical considerations. The judges will also issue each team a score on civility, although this is not factored into the final team score.

Bartzel was quick to emphasize that Ethics Bowl isn’t like trying to win an argument. “This is not like debate team,” he said. “The emphasis of the entire competition is civil discourse.”

The goal is to create a venue in which the dearth of civil discourse in society is recognized and students can model overcoming it through substantive discussion.

The Indiana University Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions has sponsored teams since 2001. This is the first year the center sponsored two teams in the regional competition, a sign that the program has grown significantly since its inception.

IU teams won the national competition in 2004 and 2009 and placed third in 2010. Past teams won the regional competition in 2007 and 2011.

Grant Manon, a senior in finance, political science and economics, is in his fourth year competing on the team. The rest of the members are all new this year, including senior Radhika Agarwal, sophomore John Hanks, sophomore Ali Henke and freshman Nikhil Nandu. Bartzel leads the team alongside co-coach Emma Young, an Ethics Bowl alumna.

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