Meet the Staff: Karen Spear

by Jackie Kretz | Nov 12, 2018

SpearKaren Spear, Ph.D., associate professor of philosophy, learned early on that she did not belong in her mother’s world of science and math. In fact, she rebelled against having to figure out the one correct answer and, instead, discovered a fascination for all the unanswered questions.

“Just because a question seems unanswerable doesn’t mean it’s not worth thinking about,” said Spear, who happens to not be just a “thinker.”

 As director of Marian University’s Center for Organizational Ethics, Spear has accomplished plenty. While she admits it was difficult being a “one-person” center, Spear’s efforts established an ethics concentration and minor, an institutional review board, an annual professional ethics lecture, and, of course, the Ethics Bowl at Marian University. On November 3, the 20th annual Central States Regional Ethics Bowl was held on campus.

An Ethics Bowl is a competition of unanswered questions. Teams must argue and defend their moral assessment of complex ethical issues, ranging from business and professional ethics, to personal relationships, social, and political affairs. Marian University has hosted the Central States Regional Ethics Bowl since 1999. Sponsored by the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE), the university is a qualifying site for the National Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl.

The 2013 Marian University team won the second place trophy at regionals and got to compete at nationals. The Central States region is highly competitive, but Spear believes competing at the national level is realistic in the future, especially with the coming Walker Center for Applied Ethics in 2019.

It’s not going to be a one-person center anymore, thanks to a gift to Marian University from Frank D. Walker, chairman emeritus of Walker Information and the Walker Family Foundation, whose mission is to advance a more ethical world by improving and evolving the interdisciplinary teaching of ethics and by bridging the gap between research and organizational best practices.

“Everything is falling into place. Ethics is huge. We have the opportunity to talk shop beyond just best practices and compliance, to explore the most ethical way for our community to be,” said Spear, who is excited about joining forces with ethics professionals in local businesses…and, perhaps, about Ethics Bowl nationals.

Q & A with Karen Spear

What is your recruiting pitch for students considering competing at an Ethics Bowl?

If you are interested in ideas, and if, like me, you think it’s fun to be intellectually engaged, the ethics bowl competition could be for you. It’s a great opportunity to learn how to collaborate and come to consensus with a group of people you may not agree with. And it looks great on a resume.

Our recruiting efforts will likely also be boosted by the new Debating Ethics: Current Moral Issues course which has recently been added to the First Year Seminar curriculum.

What do you most love about Marian University?

I love teaching at a Catholic university where our introduction to philosophy course covers St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, who talk about faith in the philosophical context. Their understanding of being human is that there is something in us that seeks God. I like being able to share that with students.

What is something about you many would not expect?

I love rock and roll. When I was eight years old, I heard the Beatles, and that was it for me. As a teenager, I got into folk music, but now I find myself really enjoying the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. I listen while walking and driving. I find that it centers me, because I’ve been listening to it long enough that, in a way, it’s just home.

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