Rezendes Ethics Essay Competition

The John M. Rezendes Annual Ethics Essay Competition 2019

All current undergraduate students at the University of Maine are invited to submit an 8 to 10 page essay that focuses on ethics, broadly construed. Papers on any topic of ethical concern are welcome, but see below for suggested focus. Please view other requirements and essay submission form below. 


  • First Prize: $3000 plus an original engraved sculpture
    • The prize winner will be asked to read from her or his winning essay at the Rezendes Ethics Lecture
    • Winning essay will be bound and shelved in the Honors Reading Room
  • Finalists: $300

Topic for 2019: Advocacy and Accountability

What does it mean to be an advocate?  To whom or what is an advocate accountable?  What are the ethical issues of taking up a position on someone else’s behalf?  What are the circumstances under which someone may act as an advocate? What are the circumstances under which someone may need an advocate? Is advocacy a duty?  What are the principles of advocacy? Advocacy, as it relates to institutions, policy, economics, justice, politics, and society, centers around the voice of both the advocate and the person or group for whom the advocate represents.  We encourage you to reflect on some of these themes and, in general, about the ethical accountability involved in advocacy, including specific contemporary ethical issues. Some sample approaches to this question include, but are not limited to:

What are the ethical concerns of the advocate when representing vulnerable and/or marginalized people? What role might an individual’s personal moral beliefs and motivations play when acting as an advocate?

What are the varying ways in which a person can act as an advocate?  Is it always from a professional standpoint? Are these ways all morally permissible or are some ways morally suspect? How else might someone act as an advocate?

In the case of advocacy on behalf of another: what does the relationship between advocate and advocated look like in practice? How does that relationship grow?  Are there ethical or moral boundaries to consider in this relationship? How does accountability play a role in this relationship?

At what point should the advocate speak? At what points can and should the advocated be able to speak for themselves?

What role does listening play in advocacy?

What is the relationship between advocacy and law, public policy and/or the justice system?

Can we be held accountable to advocate for things other than people, like ecosystems, ideals, intellectual property, history, or living beings other than humans?

These prompts are merely examples of how one might approach the topic.  Student participants in the Rezendes Ethics Essay Competition should feel free to venture out and come up with their own question related to “Advocacy and Accountability”.

This theme and these suggestions are a guideline, but past winners and finalists have submitted papers not strictly related to the year’s theme. Any paper related to issues in ethics will be seriously considered. However, successful papers will identify and clearly describe a problem and the ethical issue at stake, present a carefully reasoned and informed argument about how the ethical issue should be approached and resolved, and include a clear description of the ethical theory used to reach such a resolution (rights theory, social contract theory, utilitarianism, Kantian ethics, virtue ethics, feminist ethics, etc.). 

There will be open office hours for all prospective writers on January 25th from 11am-1pm, in Estabrooke 152. Feel free to drop in!

We will also be having our last workshop on February 1st from 11:30am-12:30pm, in Estabrooke 152. 

If you are interested in attending this workshop, please submit this form!

These interactive, hands on, fun workshops will take students through the steps of writing an effective ethics essay. We’ll cover the basic ethical approaches, with a list of online resources that can help you make progress on your own. We’ll do a mock paper outline. And we’ll discuss tips and strategies for writing your essay and overcoming obstacles. Open to any students, but especially designed for students who might submit to the Rezendes Ethics Essay Contest.

In order to be considered for the award, the essay must:

  • Identify and clearly describe a problem and the ethical issue at stake
  • Present a carefully reasoned and informed argument about how the ethical issue should be approached and resolved
  • Include a clear description of the ethical theory used to reach such a resolution (rights theory, social contract theory, utilitarianism, Kantian ethics, virtue ethics, feminist ethics, etc.)
  • Respond to serious objections that might be offered to the author’s point of view
  • Maintain ethical discourse focused on right and wrong conduct, moral values and the good

Draw from factual information, properly referenced.

Sample prompts from past years include:

  • What are the ethical implications of our relationship with nature? Can our relationship with nature be unethical?
  • In our Internet Age, which is the more important consideration:  open access to new scientific discoveries or the protection of intellectual property?
  • How should ethical concerns affect our food choices?


All undergraduate students at the University of Maine registered during the spring semester in which the competition is held are eligible, including those who will be studying abroad.

Submission Guidelines

  • Essays must be submitted electronically by Friday, February 15th 2019.
  • No late submissions will be accepted.
  • No works of poetry or fiction will be accepted.
  • The following format must be used:
    • Submissions must be typewritten in 12 pt font, double spaced with one-inch margins saved in .doc or .docx format.
    • Submissions must be 8-10 pages maximum.
      • Note – reference and cover pages do not count towards the 8-10 page maximum
    • Submissions must include a reference page and proper in-text source documentation (MLA, APA or Chicago styles)
    • Only the title of the essay, and not the author’s name, should appear on the first page of the essay itself.
    • The first page of the document must be a cover page with the author’s name, title of the essay, local address and phone number, email address, year in school and major.
  • Submissions will not be returned.
  • No student may win the first prize more than once.
  • Essay are due by Friday, February 15th 2019

Evaluation Procedure

A committee of faculty members from the University of Maine will judge the essays. The decision of this committee is final. The committee will interview the authors of the top essays before the winning essay is selected. Finalists may be asked to revise their essay. The judges will make their evaluations based on the following criteria:

  • The quality of the writing;
  • Adherence to theme;
  • The clarity with which the problem to be addressed has been defined and presented;
  • The cogency of the arguments used to defend the author’s position on the problem;
  • The strength and relevance of the objections considered;
  • The care with which the author responds to these objections; and
  • The accuracy of any factual information in the essay, including proper documentation of source materials.
  • While the student will be judged primarily on the written work, the interview will be a factor.

Additional Information

  • Essays must be framed using an ethical theory. More details on ethics and ethical framings can be found here.
  • An Overview of ethical theories can be found here.
  • For additional information on ethical framings, visit:
  • Tips and suggestions from previous essay winners can be found here.
  • For any other questions please contact Eric LeVasseur (

Previous Competitions

More information on the John M. Rezendes Ethics Initiative, including links to past winning essays, can be found here. Please note that previous winning essays may exceed the 10 page limit. These essays have gone through the revision process and are longer as a result. Original submissions must not exceed 10 pages.