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December 04, 2011

Ethics Get Workout in College Bowl Game

by Ted Landphair

Student teams quizzed on issues involving morals

College football teams are preparing for postseason play in events such as the venerable Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, and Orange Bowl.

And the not-so-venerable Beef O’Brady’s Bowl, San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, and the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Yes, those are real college football games.

But they are not the only bowl competitions underway.Preliminary matches are in full swing for the next annual Ethics Bowl.

Thirty-two university teams, whose members wear dresses or suits and ties, not helmets and cleats, will face off until one winner is declared at the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl, to be held next March at the annual meeting of the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics.



These competitions are more like a television quiz show than a gridiron collision.  Moderators pose questions to teams of three to five students about moral problems such as classroom cheating, choices between right and wrong on the job, and political ethics.  

Of course, some would say the last of those - political ethics - is an oxymoron: an impossible, contradictory term and therefore some sort of trick question.

Ethics Bowl questions posed to contestants will be taken from 15 case studies posted on the Practical and Professional Ethics Association’s Web page in January.  

One such study concerned ethical dilemmas at Virginia Commonwealth University, which faced spiraling costs and funding cuts in 2010. It accepted research grants from a big Virginia tobacco company, and agreed to give that company the intellectual property rights to the results of that research.      

A panel of judges evaluates the students’ answers to Ethics Bowl questions and declares a winner in each round.  The 2011 Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl champion was a team from the University of Central Florida.

Instructions for Ethics Bowl participants, also printed on the Ethics Association’s Web site, include a section called “Rules for Acceptable Behavior.” So just as in football, referees will be vigilantly watching these intellectual tussles.