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On Feb. 25, the UNC Ethics Bowl team became national champions, beating 35 other schools who competed in the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl National Championship

The championship was hosted by the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics in Cincinnati, Ohio. UNC defeated Vanderbilt University in the semifinals and UC Santa Barbara in the competition's final.

“There's honestly no feeling like this that you can get anywhere else,” Abigail Barbu, treasurer of the UNC Ethics Bowl team, said.

The Ethics Bowl is a debate-like competition in which students from two teams engage in facilitated conversations about contentious ethical and moral dilemmas affecting society.

In an Ethics Bowl competition, each team is assigned an ethical case to discuss and is allowed to defend whatever position they agree with the most in an attempt to create mutual understanding between both sides.

Zach Buckler, co-president of the Ethics Bowl team, said the Ethics Bowl is unlike speech and debate in that winners aren’t determined by the number of points scored. Rather, the team that can display deeper ethical reasoning is named the winner.

“You really have to be strong in your ability to create a cogent argument,” Buckler said.

In various matchups during the tournament, the team discussed topics such as nepotism and the use of morally gray characters in fiction.

At the beginning of each ethics bowl season, the APPE releases the case set for the national competition. Ann Goulian, co-president of the Ethics Bowl team, said each member took the lead on three or four cases and were expected to have their arguments memorized.

The team spends about five hours per week practicing together and developing their positions on each ethical case; Goulian said by the end of the semester, everyone is very familiar with each other’s arguments.

Buckler said there was a lot of nervousness on the first day of the competition, but the group’s team chemistry allowed them to calm their nerves and hit their stride after a few rounds. He added there were about 100 people in the room for the team’s final round against UC Santa Barbara, during which the teams discussed the ethical uses of artificial intelligence.

Buckler said the team’s new coach Andy Ackerman, a 26-year-old Ph.D. statistics student at UNC, was a crucial part of the team’s success at the tournament.

“We definitely couldn’t have done it without him,” Goulian said.

During the 2021-22 academic year, the team made it to nationals, but did not place very high. The season after, the team did not have a coach. "We did horribly at regionals," Buckler said.

Buckler said he and Barbu thought they were going to have to convince Ackerman to coach the team since his academic pursuits are very time-consuming.

“We cold emailed him out of the blue,” Buckler said. “He comes in on that very first meeting, and he already has an entire practice calendar laid out, he has an entire list of concepts that he wants us to know.”

Ackerman spent extra time at practices, created extra practice questions for the team and lobbied for funding — all without being paid, Barbu said.

The team nominated Ackerman for APPE's Pat Croskery Memorial Award, which he won. The award recognizes an ethics bowl coach who exemplifies respect for others, regardless of their views, and is committed to civil discourse.

Barbu said this is especially impressive because most winners of this award have coached for several years, and this was Ackerman’s first year as a coach.

“He did all of this, honestly, out of the goodness of his heart,” Barbu said. “For him to actually get that award based off his work that he did, it was so exciting.”

Looking forward to next season, Ackerman’s future as the team’s coach is unclear. Buckler said Ackerman is applying to work as a statistics professor, which would require a lot of his time.

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Barbu said she is extremely grateful to have been a part of this team, and she will remember this experience for years to come.

“I love my team,” Barbu said. “They’re the best and I couldn’t ask for better people to be national champions with.”

@aidan__lockhart

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