Letter to the Editor: Lack of NU transparency raises questions about rower’s death

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In an April 19 article published in The Daily Northwestern, titled “Schapiro, administrators address campus safety during state of University talk,” University President Morton Schapiro stated that campus safety is Northwestern’s first priority. He cited changes on Sheridan Road following the biking death of a first-year student Fall Quarter. But he failed to address another fatal accident that happened eight days before his speech: the drowning of freshman Mohammed Ramzan, who fell overboard from a shell during a rowing team practice. NU has kept silent about this since memorial services were held. But on April 14, a Chicago Tribune report titled “Northwestern student’s death raises question: Why don’t rowers wear life vests?” raised some disturbing questions.

Tribune Reporter John Keilman asked why rowers didn’t wear life vests or have personal flotation devices kept on a launch boat as required by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. USRowing, one of the sport’s top organizations, “recommends that launch boats accompanying rowers have enough life jackets for everyone on the water, and that all rowers pass a swimming test.” But Keilman said NU officials would not answer questions about whether its rowing team follows these guidelines. Why not? Do they fear a lawsuit filed by Ramzan’s family? Please tell us.

Keilman interviewed Marc Messing, a veteran rower and EMT in Ithaca, New York, who said coaches risk danger when they send rowers onto rivers and lakes without personal safety gear. Messing added that he has spoken to many Olympic rowers who wear life jackets in cold water because “that’s not the way I want to die.” Who coaches NU’s rowing team, and what are their rules for personal safety gear? Keilman said NU’s rowing team is “student-run.” Does that mean it’s not under the control and responsibility of NU’s Athletic Department?

By refusing to provide more details, NU administrators appear to avoid the truth rather than confront it head-on. But their silence only raises more speculation. Speak up, don’t cover up.

Dick Reif, Medill ’64