Mount St. Joseph University

An Enthusiastic Exchange: Searching for Ethics

Mount News: alumni magazine

It’s a Monday, around noon, and the Theatre Lobby is bustling with student activity. One particular group of students is involved in an enthusiastic exchange. To the bystander it may seem like a heated debate. Adam Konopka, Ph.D., assistant professor of philosophy, would happily say that is exactly what it is. He’s the coach of the Mount’s first-ever Ethics Bowl Team. He believes that this group of students thrives on disagreement and that debating is a great democratic form of deliberation.

Starting as a grassroots effort, six students approached Professor Konopka with the idea of starting their own Ethics Bowl Team at the Mount. Professor Konopka thought that coaching the team would enable him to interact with students outside of the classroom and to pursue his continued interest in deliberating ethical issues. According to Konopka, the Mount’s team, is “very distinctive” and holds a breadth of personal experiences. As individuals they must define, research, discuss, and reflect on their ethical position.

 As a team, they will represent the Mount at the 13th Annual Central States Regional Ethics Bowl competition. The Central States Regional Ethics Bowl is sponsored by the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE) and qualifies teams for the National Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl. 

The students are paired and given five cases to prepare. Selecting the cases for each group was difficult, according to Dan, a sophomore history/education major. “We drew straws for the really tough ethical dilemmas.” Erin, a sophomore psychology major, took a different approach. While reading each of the 15 cases,she determined who she considered “capable of arguing a case most effectively. 

The students' favorite cases are as varied as they are. Josh, a junior Chemistry/Mathematics major, said that his favorite is Case Two: Freedom to Burn Qur’an. “It is hard to argue because it involves the two largest religious organizations and it is prevalent in the world today.” According to the case study overview, Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., released a YouTube video promoting the release of his book, “Islam is of the Devil.” Two weeks later, on July 12, 2010, Jones tweeted, “9/11/2010 Int Burn a Koran Day” and began a Facebook page entitled “Islam is of the Devil.”

Dan’s favorite is Case Four: Indigenous Peoples vs. Endangered Species. He argues that “extinction is a natural process.” Case Four is set in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil, where indigenous fishermen kill pink river dolphins for profit. Dan must argue whether or not the indigenous people have the right to kill an endangered animal because it is “central to sustaining the native way of life,” or if the pink dolphin should be protected.

Erin is passionate about Case Nine: De-Sexing Children, because she is fascinated by the varying viewpoints around the topic. This case centers on the issue of parents raising their child with strict gender identities that fit with his/her physical sex, while other parents raise their children to choose their own identities.

Jeremy, a senior nursing student, said that he enjoys arguing over Case Three: Doggie Livestock. This case concerns buying purebred pets versus pets from animal shelters. According to the case study, many animal rights groups advocate the adoption of shelter pets rather than purebred animals.

Amanda, a sophomore nursing student, chose Case Twelve: Mixing Politics and Medical Practice as her favorite. This case illustrates that “in the wake of the passage of new health care legislation, Dr. Jack Cassell, a Florida urologist, put a sign on his door advising supporters of President Obama and his health care plan to ‘go elsewhere’ for their health care needs.”

Matt, a senior biochemistry student, selected Case Six: Retroactive Grade Inflation, as his favorite because his grade point average is a key factor in his future plans for medical school. This case is about colleges or universities inflating students’ grades and whether grade inflation is fair.

The Ethics Bowl Team must choose a stance on each of the case studies,and then develop their argument thoroughly to avoid debunking by other teams. The Team organizes in three stages: the first is familiarizing themselves with the cases by finding the moral and ethical questions, the second is developing and justifying a position using ethical theory,
and the third stage is the simulation of the competition.

Their enthusiastic leader, Professor Konopka, is excited to see the team prepare for the competition. He believes that the Mount is “not your typical liberal arts school … the students are passionate about seeking the ethical truth.” Professor Konopka says that the students bring in their own life experiences, which makes this team even stronger for competition.