From COVID-19 mask mandates to author J.K. Rowling’s controversial rhetoric about transgender people, students competing in the Virginia Tech Ethics Bowl have already explored a range of topics.

The inaugural competition kicked off in late March and will continue with the championship round at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 7.

Anyone interested in watching the championship via Zoom can do so by registering through this link.

The rules of the Ethics Bowl are simple. Two teams — composed of two to three students each — received 10 cases to review in advance of the competition.

The only resources available for each team during matches are scrap paper and pencils. A moderator selects a case and picks one of the two teams to respond first. Team 1 has one minute to confer and 10 minutes to respond. Then, Team 2 has one minute to confer and five minutes to respond to Team 1’s answer.

After Team 2’s five-minute response, Team 1 has five minutes to reply. The judge then asks Team 1 questions for 10 minutes before privately grading each team.

In round two, the teams’ roles are reversed and the same steps are followed. The team with the greatest number of judges declaring them the winner will be the victor.

Judges evaluate responses based on set criteria: clarity and eligibility, deliberative thoughtfulness, consideration of different viewpoints, and identification and discussion of central ethical dimensions.

The top three teams earn scholarships. First-place winners receive $750, second-place winners receive $500, and third-place winners garner $250 in prizes.

Topics in the Virginia Tech Ethics Bowl were selected with permission from the Association for Practice and Professional Ethics and include:

  • “Protests and Property Destruction”
  • “Mandatory Masks and Racial Profiling”
  • “Harry Potter and the Tweeting TERF”
  • “The Death of Living History?”
  • “Pay to Play”
  • “Here Comes the Judge”
  • “A Road Less Traveled”
  • “Balancing Interests”
  • “All the Opinions Fit to Print?”
  • “What Pants Shall We Put on Today?”

The Virginia Tech Ethics Bowl’s university sponsors include the Kellogg Center for Philosophy, Politics, and Economics; the Department of Philosophy; the Department of Engineering Education; and the Department of Management. Lockheed Martin and the Business Leadership Center also sponsored the competition.

Virginia Tech is in the process of forming its first-ever Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl team. Open to undergraduates from all colleges and majors, the team will compete against teams at other colleges and universities.

The university’s Division of Scholarly Integrity and Research Compliance (SRIC), part of the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation, is supporting efforts to create an Ethics Bowl team at the university.

Kory Trott, director of research integrity and consultation for the SRIC, said the Ethics Bowl supports the division’s mission to foster an environment of ethical research and innovation.

Justin Horn, a collegiate assistant professor of philosophy in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, has been the organizing force behind the Ethics Bowl. Horn, who worked with an Ethics Bowl team at a previous institution, will also serve as the team’s coach. He will organize meetings, help students research cases, and facilitate a positive environment for the team to development and hone their skills.

“Ethics Bowl provides a great opportunity for students to think deeply about the most pressing social, political, and moral issues that we face today,” said Horn. “It combines the excitement of a team sport with the intellectual rigor of serious moral reflection. In Ethics Bowl, students practice engaging in thoughtful, respectful debate; hone their public speaking skills; and wrestle with deep questions. It’s also a lot of fun.”

Students and faculty members seeking more information about the Ethics Bowl team at Virginia Tech should contact Horn at justinhorn@vt.edu. Faculty members interested in supporting the Ethics Bowl team as a guest judge, mentor, or facilitator of discussions should also contact Horn to learn how they can become involved.

— Written by Andrew Adkins