Philosophy Dept. to host state regional ‘Ethics Bowl’ at UCSC

ethics definition
UCSC ethics bowl team
Members of UCSC's Ethics Bowl team at a competition last year
Is it ethical for a school to punish or fire teachers for conduct that occurs off campus?

Is street art that is created in public spaces--or on private property not owned by the artist--morally permissible?

Is it ever ethical for the federal government to forgive federal student loan debt?

These are just a few of the topics that California college students will debate on December 1 in a state regional “Ethics Bowl” tournament, hosted for the very first time on the UC Santa Cruz campus by the Philosophy Department.

The Ethics Bowl is a competition, designed to develop students’ analysis and judgment of contemporary hot-button ethical issues.

“This is the first time that UCSC has hosted the California Regional Ethics Bowl, so it is a big deal for us,” said Kyle Robertson, a doctoral student in philosophy and current coach--along with grad student Sandra Dreisbach who co-founded the UCSC teams in 2005.

“It’s a great opportunity for us, as defending state regional champions, to spend our resources and time organizing a competition that has been wonderful for our students.”

Other schools participating in the regional event include UC Santa Barbara, USC, San Jose State, Santa Clara University, Cabrillo College, National Hispanic University, Santa Barbara Community College, Asuza Pacific University, CSU- Chico, and Golden West College.

The December competition serves as the regional qualifier for the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl, an annual, national competition where the best 32 teams from around the country compete.

“Ethics Bowl is the best opportunity UCSC students have to formally study applied ethics,” said Robertson.  “As an upper division philosophy class, we focus on taking the theoretical moral philosophy that students might study in other philosophy courses and applying it to current, real-world ethical quandaries.”

Robertson notes that one of the hallmarks of an Ethics Bowl competition is that students are never assigned to argue a pro or con position, as in more traditional debate formats.

Along with the current, relevant case topics, students are given the opportunity to work on presenting their own passionately held beliefs in a style that respects today’s diverse worldviews.

“I think the Ethics Bowl is an excellent microcosm of a healthy civic dialogue, where parties with different beliefs and backgrounds must come together to make decisions about public life,” said Robertson.

“In Ethics Bowl, judges specifically consider whether the student presentations respectfully grappled with the ethical position contrary to their own, and judges are allowed to ask open-ended questions of the students about their presentations.”

Robertson added that the Ethics Bowl tends to attract some of the best and brightest philosophy students at UCSC.

“Hosting the competition is a great opportunity for other folks in the UCSC community to come hear some of our most thoughtful students grapple with contentious ethical dilemmas.”

UCSC’s Ethics Bowl team is sponsored by Stevenson College and the Philosophy Department, who both provide funding, facilities, and intellectual support.

Students prepare for the competitions by taking a two-unit course at Stevenson. 

For more information, contact Kyle Robertson at or Sandra Dreisbach at