NORMAN — Six University of Oklahoma students are interested in doing the right thing. To be more precise, they are interested in determining what the right thing to do is.
Should you raise your children without gender roles? Is bullfighting a cultural art form that deserves protection, or is it simply animal cruelty? Should parents be allowed to spank their children without government interference, or should spanking be declared a misdemeanor?
These questions and more are the types of issues the students debate weekly in preparation for the national Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl, a fierce verbal competition that is anything but your typical bowl game.
OU's Ethics Bowl team has won the regional competition for two years running. This year, they hope to take the national title when they compete in March in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“It's a debate contest, but the main thing is staying ethically relevant when you argue your case,” said team member Jerod Coker.
The debates center on specific cases, or scenarios, that pose ethical dilemmas. The students are given a set of 15 cases to study before the competition. For each case, team members must come to a consensus, then develop arguments that back up their stance.
“It really makes you challenge your own ethical beliefs as you think about your stand on something. You really have to look at why you believe what you do,” Coker said.
The students can research and develop arguments on each case ahead of time, but at the competition they are not allowed to refer to their research notes.
“It's a little nerve-racking,” says team member Guss Keyes. “When you go into the competition, you just hope you're given a case that you're really strong in.”
Coker is an economics major who says he has always been interested in ethical questions. Keyes, a philosophy major, is a self-described “philosophy nerd” who likes nothing better than “sussing out” issues.