Center for Academic Integrity
Clemson Ethics Bowl team finishes second in national championship

DATE: March 12, 2009
CONTACT: Kelly C. Smith, 864-656-5366
CONTACT: Charles Starkey, 864-656-1128
WRITER: Ross Norton, 864-656-4810

Clemson Ethics Bowl team finishes second in national championship

CLEMSON — The Clemson University Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl team earned its second trophy in as many years at the national Ethics Bowl Championships in Cincinnati, Ohio. The “Orange Wave” outperformed more than 100 other teams and earned the second-place spot as they defended their national championship from last year.

To get to the national tournament, the team outcompeted some 70 teams in the regional selection

2009 Ethics Bowl Team

Ethics Bowl team members
Front row, left to right, are Brad Saad, Michael DeWitt, Rahul Loungani, Nikesh Patel and Kelsey Sontag. Back Row are coaches Kelly Smith and Charles Starkey.

process. Then the best 32 teams in the country squared off in the national competition last week. The Clemson team members climbed the ladder in five rounds of preliminary competition to win a seat at the championship table, where they faced Indiana University, a perennial Ethics Bowl powerhouse.

“Both teams put in remarkable performances, but Indiana eked out a narrow victory, leaving Clemson in the No. 2 position,” said Kelly C. Smith, who coaches the team with Charles Starkey, both of the Clemson University philosophy and religion departments and Fellows in the Rutland Institute for Ethics. “Clemson’s back-to-back national first- and second-place performance is unprecedented at the Ethics Bowl competition, and is especially impressive since only one member of last year’s championship team returned with this year’s team.”

Held each year in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics, the National Ethics Bowl is inspired by TV's College Bowl. The ethics bowl essentially is a debate competition that focuses on complex ethical issues.  

Teams spend six intense weeks preparing comprehensive ethical analyses and presentations on a set of 15 case studies, each of which presents an ethical dilemma. The cases range widely across disciplines. This year, for example, they included ethical exploration of shock marketing, the use of robots in combat, news embargoes, censorship of prison libraries and conservation easements, among others. 

In the competition, teams from two schools are paired up for a round, the cases are randomly selected and then a moderator poses a specific question for the presenting team to answer about that case. There is some back-and-forth between the presenting team and the responding team, as well as questions from a panel of expert judges. The arguments are evaluated on a point scale for clarity and intelligibility, focus on ethically relevant factors, avoidance of ethical irrelevance and deliberative thoughtfulness. The teams switch places and repeat the process with a new case so each team has the opportunity to both present and respond. At the end of each round, the winning team advances to the next level.

The 2009 team consists of Michael DeWitt, a junior chemical engineering major from Columbia; Rahul Loungani, a junior biochemistry major from Columbia; Nikesh Patel, a sophomore biochemistry major from Goose Creek; Brad Saad, a sophomore philosophy major from Greenville; and Kelsey Sontag, a junior financial management major from Franklin, Tenn.  

They were sponsored by the Rutland Institute for Ethics and the department of philosophy and religion.  

“A generous donation by Lewis Cromer as well as advice and assistance from many members of the Clemson community were invaluable in the team’s success,” Smith said.

Planning already is under way for next year’s regional competition in November. Anyone interested in participating or helping should contact Charlie Starkey ( for more information.