UNC Wins Ethics Bowl National Championship

The team competed in 12 regional events to become one of 36 to advance to nationals. (Photo: UNC)

UNC, known for winning national championships in athletics, has captured a different kind of title: the 2024 Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl National Championship.

Renowned as an academic competition, the Ethics Bowl challenges teams to present, defend and analyze arguments on various ethical dilemmas. Discussions include such topics as affirmative action and artificial intelligence. Ethics Bowl teams are evaluated based on presentation, commentary, responses to the opposing team’s remarks and responses to the judges’ questions. Teams are awarded points in each category.

Thirty-six teams competed for the national title Feb. 24–25 in Cincinnati. The event is organized by the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics. Carolina defeated UC-Santa Barbara in the final to be crowned champion. UNC finished undefeated with a 35–0 record.

To prepare for the competition, Carolina students conducted extensive research to develop a comprehensive understanding of each issue to formulate and defend their arguments. The competition embraces differing viewpoints. The team practiced three times a week for an hour and a half, and each member was assigned three to four cases to make presentation outlines.

“My first year we didn’t win a single round,” said senior Zachary Buckler, co-president of the team. “Going into the regional competition I was like, ‘Just win one round, and I’ll be happy.’ For nationals, I was pretty terrified. I had trouble sleeping the night before. I knew we were really good, but I was nervous.”

Junior Ann Goulian, co-president of the Ethics Bowl team, said winning the national championship was an unexpected pleasure. “When we were asked what our goals were for the year, many people were like, ‘I want to have fun.’ My goal was to make it to nationals, and then we won it, which is crazy,” she said. “I don’t think many of us went into the season with nationals on our mind, let alone winning it.”

Goulian said the Ethics Bowl members, which also include seniors Nina Fisher and Abi Barbu and first-year Marli English, became close throughout the year, developing friendships, trust and admiration.

The team competed in 12 regional events to become one of 36 to advance to nationals. UNC was sponsored by the Parr Center for Ethics, which promotes discussion of ethical questions on the University’s campus. The center was founded in 2004 and sponsors many ethics-related clubs on campus, invites speakers to campus, hosts and produces the National High School Ethics Bowl Program and leads numerous ethics outreach activities in the state, according to their website.

Ethics Bowl Coach Andy Ackerman, a doctoral student in his debut season, won APPE’s Pat Croskery Memorial Award, given to the Ethics Bowl coach who is committed to civil discourse and best exemplifies respect for others. Team members created a presentation to convince Ackerman to coach them, Buckler said, but Ackerman already had a practice plan, a schedule and a moral primer for the team when they asked him to be their leader. Ackerman was pivotal to their success, Buckler said.

Allowing all team members to participate set UNC apart from other teams, Buckler said. “There were a lot of teams at both regionals and nationals that were just one person talking the entire time, and you can see everybody else at the table has something to say, and they’re just not able to say it,” he said. “One thing that was a big asset for us was everyone was an equal contributor, and everyone was factored into the presentation.”

Goulian said she’s focused on securing funding and recruiting team members for next season. “I’m looking forward to one last season, and it has definitely been the best part of college for me.”

— Cameron Hayes Fardy ’23

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