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Students' Ethical Thinking Will Be the Focus of College Competition

February 3, 2015

Category: Academics, Events, Students

 L-R: Dr. Ken Clapp, Blake Brewer, Michael Downum, Shelby Wellmon, Brianna Gordon, Sarah Bushey, Christine Baran, Samuel Barker, Nathan Jarman, Michelle Stoelting
Front: Dr. Norris Feeney, Dr. Charlie McAllister, Dr. Kevin Taylor

Six Catawba College students are poised to represent the institution in the fourth annual North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities' Ethics Bowl, which will be held February 6 and 7 at the Campbell University School of Law in Raleigh.

The students include Blake Brewer of Efland; Justin Burroughs of Salisbury; Sarah Bushey of Ontario, N.Y.; Michael Downum of Salisbury; Brianna Gordon of Chapel Hill; and Shelby Wellmon of Apex. Catawba's chaplain and senior vice-president, the Rev. Dr. Ken Clapp, who also teaches classes on Business Ethics, worked with NCICU and Dr. Jesse McCartney, a former Catawba provost and coordinator of the the state-wide program  for NCICU to put things in place for Catawba to send a team to the event. He then asked Drs. Charlie McAllister and Norris Feeney, members respectively of the history and politics faculty at Catawba, to prep Catawba's team. Dr. Feeney will accompany the students to Raleigh for the competition.

 Catawba Table, foreground: Michael Downum, Shelby Wellmon, Blake Brewer, Brianna Gordon; Pfeiffer table, background: Christine Baran, Michelle Stoelting, Nathan Jarman, Samuel Barker; Judges' table, right: Dr. Norris Feeney, Dr. Charlie McAllister, Sarah Bushey; Standing: Dr. Kevin Taylor

Dr. Clapp stated, "I have taken teams of students to ethics symposiums for several years and have observed how helpful it is for them to have the opportunity to debate with peers from other institutions.  It really opens their minds to the importance of addressing issues with a concern for what is right as opposed to just what may be expedient or serve special interests. The real dilemma often is in deciding what is 'right'. These debates help the students develop critical thinking skills which will serve them well throughout their lives and often inspire a new desire to work for the good."

Critical thinking for the real world — specifically, ethics in education — will be the focus of the fourth annual NCICU Ethics Bowl.  More than 100 college students from 20 of the state's independent colleges and universities will participate in this year's competition, which is a program of NCICU, the statewide office for the state's 36 independent nonprofit colleges and universities.

"Students need to understand that corporate America values ethical behavior and appreciates the dilemmas that are often in the day-to-day actions that we take," says Anne Lloyd, executive vice president and chief financial officer at the Raleigh-based Martin Marietta, one of nearly 20 corporate sponsors of the event.

Lloyd, who has served for four years as a member of the planning committee for the Ethics Bowl, shared several incidents involving bad ethical decisions made by employees at Martin Marietta. In one incident, she said, an employee was terminated years ago after being found to have accepted gifts from a vendor, while another employee lost his job after admitting he had filled his personal vehicle with gas at a company pump.

"Violating our code of ethical conduct is a sure, automatic termination," shares Lloyd.

While actual cases of fraud are rare at Martin Marietta, which employs 7,000 people, the company in the past has terminated senior-level and long-tenured employees for violations of ethical and business conduct, Lloyd says, and employers everywhere should be vigilant in helping their employees avoid improper behavior.

Dr. Hope Williams, president of NCICU, notes her organization created the Ethics Bowl to underscore the indispensable role that ethical thinking and actions play in daily life, and to give students an opportunity to develop the skills to recognize and analyze ethical issues quickly and work in teams to resolve them.

"Ethical thinking prepares students to be workers of high integrity, engaged citizens and responsible adults," Williams explains.

Business, government and foundation leaders serve as judges and moderators at the Ethics Bowl, which pits student teams against one another through four rounds of debate on ethical questions, including those the students have researched in advance, as well as a surprise question. Following the fourth round for all teams on Saturday, the most successful teams compete in two semi-final rounds, held concurrently, followed by a final round.

"It's really teaching college students how to identify ethical issues, how to analyze them," says Holly Wenger, director of ethics and compliance at Duke Energy and a judge in the final round of last year's Ethics Bowl. "Those are the kind of people that Duke Energy wants."

As it is at many companies, ethical behavior is a core value at Martin Marietta and at Duke Energy, which also is a sponsor of the Ethics Bowl. Spelled out in corporate statements, those two companies' commitment to ethical behavior is the focus of orientation for new employees and ongoing training for all employees.

Charlotte-based Duke Energy also provides a hotline, administered by a third party, that its 28,000 employees can use to report ethical concerns — anonymously if the employees choose — about issues ranging from fairness and discrimination to whether to accept gifts from vendors, Wenger says. The company then investigates the concerns.

Duke Energy also encourages questions from employees and works with them to provide guidance on ethical issues.

Lloyd at Martin Marietta says a college class in business ethics she took as an elective for her major in accounting and finance was "probably closest to the way the real world works than any other classes I took."

Corporations recognize that ethical issues represent a "gray area" in the business world and pose the challenge of "taking divergent views and coming to the right course of action for your company, your shareholders and all other stakeholders," she comments.

"It's better to talk about it and express those differences and come to some agreement as to the course of action rather than keep it to yourself," she says. "We all face those decisions every day. You have an ethical choice with almost every decision you have to make."

In addition to the team competition, students participating in the Ethics Bowl will have the opportunity — during the competition and at a reception and dinner at the North Carolina Museum of History — to meet corporate, foundation and government leaders from across the state who serve as judges and moderators for the competition.

"In today's competitive global economy, organizations place a significant value on employees who can see and resolve the ethical questions they face in the workplace every day," concludes Williams. "The Ethics Bowl reflects the broad effort by North Carolina's independent colleges and universities to prepare students to think and act critically and responsibly."

About the NCICU Ethics Bowl

Launched in 2012, the NCICU Ethics Bowl is an annual statewide competition that gives students an opportunity to think critically and collaboratively about how to make ethical decisions. The goal of the event is to prepare students for the kind of ethical dilemmas they will face in the workplace. The competition places a premium on preparation and quick thinking, with team members expected to field questions on the spot from the other teams. Previous Ethics Bowls have focused on ethics in health care, ethics in communications, and ethics in the workplace.


NCICU is the statewide office for North Carolina's 36 independent, nonprofit institutions of higher education. Formed in 1969, NCICU helps develop scholarship support, engages in state and federal policy work, and partners with the state's other education systems. We develop research and information, support staff development, and coordinate collaboration among our institutions. Those institutions generate over $7 billion a year for the state's economy, plus $400 million in taxpayer savings. They employ over 65,000 people and together represent the state's second-largest private employer.

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