Hannah Ketring was still shaking off sleep when she walked into Oklahoma Christian University's Harvey Business Center a few minutes before 6 a.m. Thursday.
In a few minutes, she and five of her friends would sit down around a conference table to discuss the finer points of Indian patent law. But first, there was coffee.
Ketring, 21, is a member of one of OC's two ethics teams. The teams meet at 6 a.m. every Thursday — one of the only times that would work for everyone's schedule. During the practices, the two teams hash out their answers to ethical questions and discuss how they arrived at those conclusions.
The two teams, the Eagles and the Talons, claimed the two top spots at the Oklahoma Business Ethics Foundation's annual Statewide Student Ethics Challenge last month. Now, the teams are preparing for a regional ethics competition Nov. 16 in San Antonio.
Competing in ethics is a bit like debate. In debate, two teams are given a question regarding a national or international issue and then build a case for their answer. The two teams take opposing sides and try to convince judges that their side is best.
In competitive ethics, the two teams may reach the same answer to the question. Judges score the teams based on the arguments they present, said Jeff Simmons, the teams' faculty adviser. So if two teams reach the same answer, the team that built the stronger case for that argument wins, he said.
During Thursday's practice, the teams debated an Indian patent dispute from earlier this year in which Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis lost a case against an Indian firm that was producing a low-cost version of the company's cancer drug, Glivec.
On Thursday, the two teams took opposing sides in the case. One side argued the Indian firm's lower-cost product represented the greater good because it saved lives, while the other team countered that protecting Novartis' intellectual property rights would encourage pharmaceutical companies to invest in new drugs, which could also save lives in the future.
In other cases, Simmons said, teams can agree on the conclusion but disagree on the route they take to get there. For example, in the Novartis case, another team could agree that the company's patent should be protected, but argue that the company should license the drug at a reduced cost to make it more affordable to people in developing countries.
Ketring said she likes the competitive ethics format. A senior, Ketring participated in a homeschool debate circuit while she was in high school in Nashville, Tenn., and came to OC on a debate scholarship.
Before she came to the university, Ketring had never heard of competitive ethics. But when a friend told her about it, she liked the idea and decided to try it out. The competitions seem less like policy debates than broader discussions, she said.
“It feels a little more like real life,” she said.
Chas Carter, a team member from Allen, Texas, agreed.
The format of the competitions tends to be more free form and less rigid than debate, he said, so it wasn't difficult for him to adapt even though he didn't participate in debate in high school.
Carter, 20, hopes to go to law school after he graduates from OC. Participating with the team has helped him prepare for that because it forces him to learn how to build and present a coherent argument, he said.
“My public speaking ability has gone up drastically since starting it,” he said. “Anything that's going to sharpen me is good.”