SHU Hosts Northeast Regional Ethics Bowl

The winning team from Providence College - from left are Robert Gervasini, Matthew Dushel, Laura Wells, Michael McCormick and Michael Wasenius.

News Story: December 2, 2013

More than 180 undergraduate students. Fifty-two judges and moderators. Twenty-six teams. Nineteen different schools. Nearly 10 hours of competition. Three regular rounds plus a quarter-final, semi-final and final round. Two cases per team. The logistics associated with the Northeast Regional Ethics Bowl alone could make your head swim, not to mention the challenging philosophical conundrums put into play and the subject of much debate. In the end, a team from Providence College, led by Assistant Philosophy Professors Raymond Hain and Patrick MacFarlane, claimed victory over a feisty group from Schenectady, New York’s Union College.

The top five colleges from the regional bowl will head to the National Ethics Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., in February. They are Providence, Union, Marist 1, Colgate and Villanova. The SHU 1 team, made up of Maggie Vogel, Paul Bancroft, Alana Gonzalez, Kayla Briere and Isabelle Malin, was sixth. The SHU teams were coached by Professor Ono Ekeh of SHU’s Philosophy & Religious Studies Department.

Fought valiantly between students across multiple disciplines, throughout the day on Saturday, November 23, at Sacred Heart University’s Fairfield campus, the event goes a long way in helping develop critical skills that can be applied to all career pursuits.

“The cases are all based on real-life situations, like the ethics of burying the Boston Marathon bomber on public grounds, or should pet owners eat meat?” explained Professor June-Ann Greeley, of the Theology & Religious Studies Department at SHU and the regional coordinator for the Bowl.

“Competitors are from a mix of academic studies including philosophy, literature, business, finance, engineering and more. Ethics is important in every field,” Greeley continued. “The idea is not that there’s a right or wrong answer, but can you offer a sustainable ethical argument to defend the position?”

How does ethics come into play in the workplace? “It’s key to developing argumentation and reasoning skills,” said Greeley. “But, more importantly, especially for a Catholic university like Sacred Heart, it’s being ethical in general. You could say something is the law, but the law is not necessarily ethical.”

The caliber of debate shown in the Bowl competition is top-flight. “A few of our judges are lawyers and, often, we get comments from them that the perspectives offered in the process are insightful and provocative, going beyond the letter of the law,” Greeley noted.

Michael Ventimiglia, chairman of SHU’s Department of Philosophy, Theology & Religious Studies, co-director of the Hersher Institute of Ethics and presenter of the NEREB Award to the championship team from Providence College, echoed the importance of the event. “To get here, students have to spend hours and hours preparing,” he said. “They have to present an argument in a clear and convincing manner while under pressure.”

Ventimiglia said that faculty often worry about students being able to think critically. “The educational value of this can’t be overestimated,” he affirmed. “These are the skills that will give students long successful careers, in any profession. We are proud to be fostering this—it’s one of our best days here.”