The Public Honors College

SMCM Newsroom

Preparing for the ‘Bowl Game’

November 12, 2013
Press Release #13-113


Editor’s note: This article was written prior to the 2013 Regional Ethics Bowl that took place on Nov. 9. St. Mary’s placed second in the Bowl out of 14 teams, qualifying for the National Ethics Bowl, which will be held in late February in Jacksonville, Fl. In this weekend’s competition, St. Mary’s beat Georgia Regents University, Georgetown University, Clemson University and UMBC, and narrowly lost to Duke University in the finals. Congratulations to the team!

Autonomous (self-driving) vehicles like the Google car could hit roads by 2020. If the autonomous car is a safer option than human-driven cars, should people be allowed to drive their own cars anymore? On one hand, widespread adaptation of the autonomous car would result in fewer accidents. People who love to drive, however, may not want to relinquish the steering wheel, a symbol of personal freedom to travel. Do people have the right to drive, or is driving merely a privilege which should be revoked in favor of safety?

This scenario is one that the St. Mary’s College of Maryland Ethics Bowl Team has been debating since September, when they began preparations for the 2013 Mid-Atlantic Regional Ethics Bowl, to be held at Clemson University on Saturday, Nov. 9. At the Bowl, the St. Mary’s team will compete against 14 other teams for a chance to compete at the National Ethics Bowl.

“Ethics is not only about ideas, and is certainly not inapplicable,” says Professor (“Coach”) Michael Taber. “Every time we practice our ethics cases, we still find other ways to make points, other ways to consider a case. This thorough exploration of the applications of ethical theories is something these students get from ethics bowl more than they could from any traditional class.”

In early September, a list of 15 ethics cases was made available by the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics, the organization that organizes Ethics Bowls. The cases are quite diverse and often cover topics which have been in the media. One asked where the proper burial place for one of the Boston Marathon bombers should be, while another touched on the perennial debate of prayer in schools. In each of the three rounds of competition, Ethics Bowl teams will be asked a question related to one of the cases. One team will respond to the question, while the other team will be expected to raise objections or build on the other team’s answer.

How did the team prepare for this year’s competition? “After we competed in Ethics Bowl the first year [2010],” says Taber, “we realized we could get more serious about Ethics Bowl and give the student competitors class credit for their hard work by having an Ethics Bowl class.” This two-credit seminar class of five students meets three times a week with Taber, but preparation outside of class is necessary as well, especially as the competition date nears.

“We’ve been meeting in the afternoons as we get closer to Saturday,” says junior Molly Malarkey, who will be competing in her second ethics bowl this year. “I also practice at home by myself: I stand in front of the mirror and go over my cases every night.”

Junior Justin Rattey, in his third year of ethics bowl competition, says he puts in a few hours outside team meetings every day rewriting positions and developing the points for each case. “Ethics Bowl is really the best opportunity to learn about and apply ethics,” he says. “Although all the pre-Ethics Bowl work is important, in the end you’re forced to think on your feet.”

Ethics Bowl team members are diverse in their scholastic interests and extracurricular activities, but they come together to make a tight, cohesive team. They look forward to the weekend’s event, not just for the intense competition and warm Carolina air, but also for the opportunity to talk ethics with other students. Sophomore Cameron di Leo was a member of the debate team in high school, and says he looks forward to a similar kind of academic competition. “This is a great opportunity to discuss these topics with peers,” he says.

“Other competitors have also been immersed in these 15 cases for the last three months too, so we’re always excited to hear what other teams have to say, to see how different their ideas are,” says Malarkey. “Even outside competition, discussing ethics with other people is a great experience.”

In talking ethics, students get a glimpse of the role ethics may play in their futures. “A lot of cases force us to face issues of professional ethics which we may confront in a workplace,” says Rattey.

Senior Nikki Drake, who is a member of the team, sees Ethics Bowl as a way to practice sound argumentation. “We develop a full appreciation for both sides of the argument,” she says. “This is important for anyone who hopes to be a constructive interlocutor.”

Regardless of their motivation for taking on the Ethics Bowl challenge, the team is ready for Regionals. Sophomore Michael Abrams is eager to compete in his first Ethics Bowl. “Competition this weekend will be nerve-racking, but we’re excited and well prepared,” he says.

“We’ve all been aiming for this target, for November 9th since the beginning, and we are ready,” says Taber. “We’re ready to deliver what we’ve prepared. This is what we’ve been building for. It’s a ‘Bowl game!’”