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Rising Stars: The Ethics Bowl Team

Dr. Jo Ann Carson
Dr. Jo Ann Carson
Dr. John McGee
Dr. John McGee

Students apply ethical principles to real-life problems

The Department of Philosophy sends a team to a bowl competition every year—the regional Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl, held at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio.

In about half of the 16 years since the Ethics Bowl began, the Texas State team has won the regional competition and advanced to the national tournament in Cincinnati, OH.

“Our teams have competed very well at the regional level against institutions such as Southern Methodist University, Texas Christian University, and the University of Oklahoma,” said Philosophy professor Dr. Jo Ann Carson, the team’s coach. “They’ve also done well at the national level, against very stiff competition.”

The Ethics Bowl is sponsored by the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics at Indiana University. It pits one collegiate team against another in debating pressing ethical problems of the day.

“The competition requires the students to apply ethical principles to real-life problems in medicine, business, education, personal relationships, government, and other areas,” Carson said. “As they learn to apply ethical theories to concrete problems, the students hone their skills of analysis and argumentation.

“They also improve their presentation skills,” she said. “They can’t use notes in the competition. So they have to be very familiar with their arguments and flexible enough in their thinking to respond to alternative viewpoints from competitors and unexpected questions from judges.”

Before the competition, Ethics Bowl team members receive a set of cases that raise issues in practical and professional ethics. They prepare an analysis of each case beforehand and do their best to anticipate the questions that judges might pose about the cases at the competition. While each of the Texas State team’s five members takes the lead in researching only a few of the several cases the team may be asked to argue at the competition, all of the team members become familiar with all of the cases so that they can speak to them during the competition.

Some recent cases that Texas State’s five-student team prepared to argue related to the ethics of:

  • Transient students’ voting rights
  • Ancient cultural practices that harm endangered species
  • Grade inflation in law schools
  • The environmental impacts of burial and cremation
  • Public-sector pension reform
  • Pediatricians asking parents about guns in the home
Read "How We Argued an Ethics Bowl Case and Won,"
by David Newton

Usually, Ethics Bowl team members come from disciplines in the Liberal Arts, but team membership is open to students in all disciplines.  In 2011-2012, students from the McCoy College of Business joined the team, and Dr. John McGee, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs in the McCoy College of Business, became the team’s assistant coach.

“Business ethics is an interdisciplinary field,” McGee said. “For example, many professions such as law, medicine, accounting, computer science, finance, management, and marketing have long recognized that they have a special a duty to the public. Business professors, theologians, philosophers, social scientists, and business practitioners all study ethical issues and the special duties recognized by each of these professions.

“Ethical scandals in recent years have taught us that business people need to examine issues using the full toolkit of ethical analysis,” McGee continued. “Participation in the Ethics Bowl allows the business students to share their unique perspective of contemporary problems while practicing skills that they have learned from other professions.”

Texas State’s 2011-2012 Ethics Bowl team included Trista Bishop, Mass Communications and Public Relations; Stephanie Richter, Accounting; Kelly Swart, Finance; Ethan Watt, Philosophy; and Trent Wilburn, Applied Sociology.

The team is also advised by two graduate students in Applied Philosophy and Ethics, David Newton and Hunter Chambers, both members of the 2010-2011 team that advanced to national competition.

More information about the Ethics Bowl is available by visiting the APPE website.

Students interested in participating in the Ethics Bowl may contact Dr. Jo Ann Carson, Philosophy,, or Dr. John McGee, McCoy College of Business,