SPOKANE, Wash. – In Gonzaga University’s first foray into the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl competition, its crackerjack team captured first place in the Northwest Regional tournament and competes for the national championship Feb. 27 in Jacksonville, Fla.
Erik W. Schmidt, associate professor of philosophy and the team’s adviser, cites disciplinary diversity as a strength in Gonzaga vanquishing 13 other teams from the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada at the regional tournament Nov. 23 in Seattle. In Florida, the Gonzaga students will face 31 other teams for the national crown. Click the video below of Professor Schmidt’s comments about the team:
Unlike many ethics teams composed predominantly of humanities majors, the Zags’ ethics team represents a wide array of majors – from biology to chemistry, psychology, math, computer science, philosophy, economics and Spanish. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that the students – four seniors and one sophomore – are flat-out brilliant. Each student carries at least a double major. James Lovett is a triple major in chemistry, math and psychology.
The competition rewards critical thinking and reasoning, knowledge of philosophy and ethics, and the abilities to synthesize and articulate difficult concepts quickly, clearly and succinctly – hallmarks of a Gonzaga education. Gonzaga’s core curriculum prepares students uniquely well for the competition, Schmidt said.
“This was a real opportunity for us to be able to experience and showcase what it means to have a Gonzaga education,” Schmidt said. “We have a great team and they represent the school well. We are looking forward to our first national tournament in our first year of existence.”
The team’s trip to the regionals was funded by a $2,500 grant from the Independent Colleges of Washington, which is sponsoring an ethics bowl tournament among the state’s independent colleges and universities in April.
In addition to Lovett, Gonzaga’s team includes Lysh Labrum, a double major in biochemistry and psychology; Kit Wendtland, majoring in Spanish and economics; Kaitlin Wood, biochemistry and philosophy; and its sole sophomore, Mark Ornelas, who majors in psychology and philosophy with minors in women’s and gender studies and Catholic studies. In his free time, Ornelas competes on Gonzaga’s debate team, ranked No. 7 in the nation. Helen Reinecke helped the team to victory in Seattle before bowing out to focus more on her studies.
Before the competition – sponsored by the Association for Practical Philosophy – each team receives cases to study that raise a range of ethical issues. Unlike debate, however, teams don’t know what the specific questions will be until the competition begins. Then, they have only 1 minute to construct answers and either 5 or 10 minutes to respond, depending on their turn. Each team responds to the other, and judges ask questions, too.
Gonzaga’s team didn’t always agree on an ethical framework to answer questions. In the championship round, the Zags did not agree until the end, meaning they started a 10-minute team presentation without a decision.
“They formulated their position, actually, as they were going,” Schmidt said.
Ornelas said the performance speaks to Gonzaga’s academic rigor.
“It says a lot about who we are as students and how the University prepares us and trains us in the Jesuit tradition,” Ornelas said.