Harper College showed it can play with the big boys, when its four-member Ethics Bowl Team earned a berth to the national collegiate competition.
Much like a debate tournament, students tackle a slate of ethical issues -- from plagiarism and paid maternity leave to the legalization of drugs in Guatemala -- in an event that combines philosophy with public speaking skills, and all with the intensity of a national collegiate competition.
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"This is the best Harper's team has ever done, and, to my knowledge, it's the first time a two-year college has qualified for the national contest," said Assistant Professor John Garcia, who hosts the team with Assistant Professor Brett Fulkerson-Smith.
At the regional contest earlier this month, Harper's squad beat out competitors from nearly a dozen Midwestern four-year colleges and universities, including the University of Michigan and the Illinois Institute of Technology, to earn its berth.
Team members gathered recently and took another look at their regional trophy before heading into the holiday break. Once they return in January, they will start preparing 15 new cases, looking at the moral and ethical sides of the issues and researching how to defend them.
The Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl Championship will be held in San Antonio, Texas, on Feb. 28.
"We spend our practices arguing each side of the cases until we have solid positions," says Eli Longbottom of South Barrington. "We need to think of all possible counterarguments so that we're ready for them during the actual competition."
Longbottom, like the other three team members took several philosophy classes at Harper along with those in his computer science major.
"I enjoy going up against a strong team and hearing the differences in how they've approached the cases," says Longbottom who plans to transfer to the University of Illinois to complete his degree.
His teammate, Caitlin Weres of Arlington Heights, would major in philosophy if she could. But they don't have that program where she's headed, which is the School of the Art Institute to complete a degree in fine arts.
Competing on the Ethics Team, keeps her grounded, she says.
"I love the team for so many reasons," she says. "It's awesome to be able to keep my mind working in that philosophical mode. The cases are really challenging and it's fun to solve them by bringing in all of our opinions and the concepts we've learned."
Rounding out the team are Matt Sandel of Arlington Heights and Gilbert Morquecho of Buffalo Grove, who will be transferring next year to DePaul University to complete his degree in political science before attending law school.
Competing on Ethics Bowl, he reasons, has given him background for both pursuits.
Sandel, meanwhile, plans to include a minor in philosophy with his chemistry major when he transfers to the University of Illinois at either Chicago or Champaign.
"I love the intellectual challenge," he says, "because it involves quick thinking -- and concise word choice."
Ten regional ethics bowls took place across the country this month, with 32 teams, including Harper, advancing to nationals. In its seven-year history, champions have included Indiana University, Clemson and the University of Miami.