Universities are supposed to be about finding the truth.
Universities are supposed to be about courage, about taking the hard road and not the easy one. Universities are supposed to teach us how to go about--in the right way, the best way--finding answers, answers to even the toughest questions, even when those answers might not be what they'd want to hear.
Which is why it is so disturbing to read Northwestern's formal, legal, response to the death of its football player, Rashidi Wheeler.
What we should be hearing from Northwestern is a desire by the university to find out why Wheeler died of a severe asthma attack on a football practice field at a "voluntary" team workout before the start of official practice.
What we'd expect to hear from a university is its desire to find out whether the dietary supplements that Wheeler seems to have taken on the day he died caused the severe asthma attack, or made it worse.
We'd expect the university to want to find out why the telephones on the field weren't working but the videotape machines were.
We'd think the university would want to know why its trainers were acting as coaches--running drills, using stopwatches, filling out charts.
We'd want the university to look into whether its trainers were so overburdened with duties other than their own professional ones of caring for athletes that they didn't have the time to notice how severely Wheeler was struggling.
We'd think Northwestern would want the answers to these questions so that the nine other asthmatics on the football team would never be in the danger that Wheeler encountered.
But on Tuesday, after concluding its own investigation into Wheeler's death, Northwestern answered the lawsuit filed by Wheeler's parents, Linda Will and George Wheeler Jr., with what can only be described as a butt-covering, self-serving statement.
In the school's official statement, the Northwestern athletic department staff behaved "valiantly" on the day Wheeler died. What a poor use of a word. We have seen valiant behavior in the face of terrible events in the last month. What happened on the Northwestern practice field Aug. 3, by all accounts, was not valiant.
The scene was chaotic, the behavior was confused. Reportedly, nearly 20 minutes elapsed from the time a first phone call was placed until an ambulance arrived. And Wheeler had been struggling to breath for minutes before an ambulance call was made.
Anyone who has an asthmatic in the family must still be wondering why, even if no phones were working, even if no proper medical equipment was available on the field, someone didn't hustle Wheeler into a car and drive him five minutes to a hospital emergency room?
That might not have been "valiant" behavior but it would have been smart and probably life-saving.
Northwestern said in its statement that Wheeler "did not die of bronchial asthma." Northwestern said this even though a coroner's report has listed bronchial asthma as the cause of death.
This is just inflammatory. Whatever caused Wheeler to have the attack, whatever combination of weather and allergies and supplements and heat and physical labor conspired to cause Wheeler to suddenly struggle to breathe, nothing that has been made public has indicated anything except that Wheeler had an asthma attack.
Yes, it was discouraging to hear George Wheeler's lawyer, Tom Demetrio, say Tuesday, "I don't think any of us should have expected Northwestern to roll over and say, 'Here's the check."'
As if anyone other than a lawyer thinks the school should have.
And it had been discouraging to have Jesse Jackson take the role of public spokesperson within days of Wheeler's death. As if Jackson had known anything about Wheeler or Northwestern or what had happened.
It would have been nice if Wheeler's parents had said they'd rather have a fair and impartial investigation of what happened on Aug. 3 before hiring lawyers and introducing Jackson into the story.
But Linda Will and George Wheeler are parents who had just lost a son. It is easier to excuse such actions from bereaved parents.
One would hope that Will and Wheeler, having entrusted their son to Northwestern and its football coach, Randy Walker, would have had enough faith in the coach and the school to want to do the right thing, although much of what has happened since has to make us wonder.
But even if the parents chose to engage in the fight with lawyers, and immediate blame-placing, we should expect more from Northwestern University.
Wheeler, after all, was a young man, only 22, who wanted to be the best football player possible for Northwestern. His taking of dietary supplements, especially considering his asthma, may seem foolish and dangerous now. But for an athlete such as Wheeler, who might have wished every day that he was not cursed with asthma, taking supplements was something he knew others were doing. He was not buying drugs in a back alley.