e-Newsletter of Moravian College and Moravian Theological Seminary | November 22, 2011 Twitter Facebook

Point, counter-point

For the second consecutive year, Moravian’s Debate Team made it to the quarter finals in the regional portion of the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl (IEB), sponsored by the Center of the Study of Ethics in the Professions at Illinois Institute of Technology. Coached by Bernie Cantens, associate professor and chair of the philosophy department, the team is made up of five students who meet and practice bi-weekly, and more often as the date for the competition nears.

This year’s team members are from left: Lawrence Olejar '14, Jackie Held ’12, team captain, Kelsey Adams ’14, Genesis Ortega ’13, Abby Kaintz ’12 and Coach Cantens.
Photo by Michael Clark.

This year’s regional competition was held between 16 teams at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., earlier this month.
The IEB executive board presents the participating schools with fifteen cases. Each of Moravian’s team members was assigned three, for which he or she investigated the ethical questions and arguments on both sides.

The cases can be simple at first glance, but become complex as the students dig for corroborating evidence to support their positions. Some of this year’s diverse cases were freedom to burn the Qur’an; indigenous peoples vs. endangered species; attractiveness discrimination in hiring; retroactive grade inflation; disposal of the dead; and home schooling.

Arguments and possible rebuttals are prepared for each of the cases; each team member has to prepare each of the three assigned cases completely because there is no way of knowing in advance which case(s) will be chosen for debate.

A 10-minute oral argument is made without notes. The opposing team then gets five minutes to rebut, and the first team is allowed a five-minute response. Then the two teams switch.

“It’s an intense competition,” says Cantens. “The whole experience is intense, but creates an equally intense sense of camaraderie and pride in the team, themselves and in Moravian.”

Judging is based on the completeness of the arguments, he explains. “All the cases are ambiguous and the judges are looking for clarity in presenting and addressing objections.”

The IEB offers students the chance to compete against other students from more than 100 universities and colleges from around the country. Although the experience is challenging on several fronts, it helps them develop invaluable skills. Along with the obvious practice in research and public speaking, students get to develop and articulate coherent arguments for and against a range of ethical issues that are sometimes real and relevant to their life experiences and sometimes are not. Learning to discern various ethical perspectives and viewpoints and express their views and justifications clearly is an invaluable skill.

After three rounds of competition, Moravian ranked in the top eight schools, which qualified the team for the quarter final competition.

“We competed against Colgate University in the first round of the quarter final—one of the top teams in our region,” says Cantens. “I thought we were going to win this round and upset them, and it was a very close call.” Disappointed by the loss, but encouraged by the quality and caliber of his team, Cantens is already planning for next year.

“We keep improving and I believe next year we will make it to the semi-finals and nationals,” he says.