College students at the University of Mississippi to grapple with ethical issues in national competition

Published 3:00 pm Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Should a high school basketball team rein in its scoring against a weaker opponent? Should artists’ copyrighted creations be fair game for tattoos? Is separating students by abilities a modern form of segregation?

College students at the University of Mississippi (UM) will wrestle with these and other thorny issues as they prepare for the APPE Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl (APPE IEB)® national championship, which will be held March 4-5 in Portland, Oregon.

They will be one of 36 teams competing against their peers using a set of cases that are drawn from real-life ethical challenges in education, business, life, and politics. Teams participating in the APPE IEB® will be judged not by their answers to such questions, but by their ability to identify and analyze the ethical dimensions of each case in a clear, focused, and thoughtful manner and with an appreciation for varied perspectives.

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The team is coached by Robert English, Ph.D., and team members include Garrison Gosling, Violet Jira, Jackson Sepulvado and Joseph Jiles. The UM Ethics Bowl Team qualified for nationals by earning 1st place in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Competition, defeating teams from University of Chicago, University of North Carolina, University of Georgia, Virginia Military Institute, and others.

“Ethics Bowl differs from debate because the teams are not simply assigned opposing positions on a particular ethical issue,” said English. “The goal of each team, rather, is to home in on and analyze the important ethical dimensions of each case they discuss, to develop ethically sophisticated arguments in support of their proposals, and to participate in civil dialogue that moves the conversation forward by deepening understanding of the ethical stakes of each issue.”

“Though the cases are often complex and polarizing, Ethics Bowl equips students to better understand their own ethical positions and those with whom they disagree, providing critical tools for working through ethical disagreement,” said English. “One of our deepest goals with Ethics Bowl is to help students hone the skills that will enable them to work constructively and collaboratively with others to address the ethical and social problems we collectively face.

In addition to the topics mentioned above, cases to be used during the national competition include ethical issues such as:

• Prioritizing wild panda conservation, which costs billions of dollars a year
• A new professional football league that encourages violent play and sexualized cheerleaders to capture bigger audiences
• A private university initially denying permission for a student protest but later approving a Free Speech Zone in a remote part of campus

See the full cases here.

The team is sponsored by The Center for Practical Ethics (TCPE), a newly-created center at UM that focuses on promoting civil discourse and providing pragmatic policy solutions to oftencontentious moral problems.

“The Ethics Bowl competition demonstrates how to have civil discussions about complicated, divisive ethical problems,” said Ethan Davis, Assistant Director of TCPE. “What participating in this kind of competition does is model an approach to conversation and policy that prioritizes thoughtful, charitable discussion of serious problems. It provides students with the tools to diffuse moral conflict by taking opposing views seriously and working to achieve a solution that pays attention to the morally relevant features of real-world problems.”

Approximately 180 teams from 135 schools competed in regional competitions last fall to earn a berth to the national competition.

The 36 qualifying teams are:
Boston College
California State University Sacramento
Colorado School of Mines
DePauw University
Fordham University
Georgia Military College
Illinois Wesleyan University
Macalester College
Oakland University
Ohio Northern University
Oklahoma Christian University
Oklahoma State University
Rollins College
San Diego State University
Seattle University
Snow College
Stanford University
Taylor University
Tufts University
UC San Diego
United States Military Academy University of Chicago
University of Colorado,Colorado Springs
University of Florida
University of Lynchburg
University of Maryland – College Park
University of Mississippi
University of North Georgia
University of the Incarnate Word
US Naval Academy
Utah State University
Utah Valley University
Virginia Military Institute
Whitworth University
William and Mary
Youngstown State University

“The members of the Ethics Bowl team have put in an enormous amount of work,” said TCPE Director Deborah Mower. “Since the cases for nationals were released, students have met multiple times each week to discuss them and practice presenting their arguments. They analyze the cases in light of ethical theories and put together policy proposals to address the problem outlined in the case. It’s the kind of hands-on work that prepares students to be effective leaders and engaged citizens once they graduate.”

The national competition is held in conjunction with the annual international conference of the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE). APPE is an international non-profit membership organization founded in 1991 dedicated to advancing scholarship, education, and practice in practical and professional ethics.