- On Saturday, emails circulated online of a Duke University professor asking Chinese graduate students to speak English while they are in school buildings.
- Duke students were deeply upset and started a petition to get the professor, Megan Neely, removed.
- It’s apparently not the first time Neely has sent an email of this nature.
- She has been asked to step down from her position as director for the graduate program but will remain a professor, a spokesperson for the university confirmed to INSIDER.
On Saturday, screenshots of emails circulated online showing a Duke University professor asking Chinese graduate students to speak English while they are in school buildings.
In the email, Megan Neely, an Assistant Professor of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics and the Director of Graduate Studies at the University, asking students from China to speak in English while in academic buildings.
In her email, Neely said that two faculty members complained that the students speaking in Chinese “were being so impolite as to have a conversation that not everyone on the floor could understand.” Neely sent out the memo to first and second-year graduate students over concerns that they were “not taking the opportunity to improve their English” and asking them “to commit to using English 100% of the time” they are in academic buildings.
One professor from Duke University sent out an email asking Chinese students not to speak Chinese in school building. pic.twitter.com/6xGkIeScJo
— Hua Sirui 华思睿 (@siruihua) January 26, 2019
In her email, she said speaking Chinese could have “unintended consequences” when students are being considered for internships, projects, or jobs after graduation.
“Our academic and professional success depends on the University fulfilling its commitment to creating an inclusive environment for everyone, especially those who already struggle to overcome both explicit and implicit biases as well as barriers in an increasingly divisive American society,” the petition said. “We are disheartened, therefore, when Duke’s faculty members implied that students of diverse national origin would be punished in academic and employment opportunities for speaking in their native language outside of classroom settings.”
“These emails warning students that not speaking English could harm their chances of getting research opportunities are examples of discrimination that should not be tolerated by the University,” The statement said. “Sending such emails to the entire department with discriminatory and threatening language is in no way an effective and appropriate approach to achieve a quiet public workspace that is respectful for everyone.”
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The statement continued: “To condemn students for speaking non-English languages, especially when they are simply conversing with one another in a non-professional setting, is not only an unprofessional and inappropriate approach to the incident at hand but also just another indication for Duke’s lack of commitment to real diversity.”
Both student groups and the graduate students who wrote the email said they were concerned as Neely’s emails seemed to signify a behavioural pattern. In February 2018, Neely sent an email to graduate students with the subject line “To Speak English or Not To Speak English.”
Speaking Chinese “might not be the best choice,” she wrote.
“Beyond the obvious opportunity to practice and perfect your English, speaking in your native language in the department may give the faculty the impression that you are not trying to improve your English skills and that you are not taking this opportunity seriously,” Neely wrote in an email to graduate students last year. “As a result, they may be more hesitant to hire or work with international students because communication is such an important part of what we do as biostatisticians.”
The professor has been asked to step down
In a statement issued over the weekend, Mary E. Klotman, the dean of the Duke University School of Medicine, apologised for Neely’s email.
“I understand that many of you felt hurt and angered by this message,” Klotman wrote. “To be clear: there is absolutely no restriction or limitation on the language you use to converse and communicate with each other. Your career opportunities and recommendations will not in any way be influenced by the language you use outside the classroom.”
She also said that Neely had been asked to step down as graduate studies for the master’s program. Neely will remain an assistant professor of biostatistics and bioinformatics, Michael Schoenfeld, the Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Relations for Duke confirmed to INSIDER.
Klotman also said that the Office of Institutional Equity will conduct “thorough review of the Master’s of Biostatistics Program and recommend ways in which we can improve the learning environment for students from all backgrounds.”
On Sunday night, Neely and Professor Elizabeth Delong, the chair of the biostatistics department, sent the following email to the students in the master’s program:
Megan and I want to follow Dean Klotman’s message with our sincere apology. We very much value our international students and their contributions to our program and we recognise that the message that was sent Friday was not appropriate. Although it was not meant to be hurtful, it came out that way and was clearly in error.
Megan wanted to personally convey to you her feelings, which are from the heart:
I deeply regret the hurt my email has caused. It was not my intention. Moving forward, it is my sincerest wish that every student in the Master of Biostatistics program is successful in all of their endeavours.
Please accept our sincerest apologies.
Megan and Liz”
In a statement to INSIDER, Schoenfeld said the university does not limit languages spoken outside the classroom.
“Duke does not have any restriction or limitation on the language that can be used outside the classroom. Indeed, we believe that a global university should reflect the languages and cultures of our students,” Shoenfeld. “And further, career opportunities and recommendations should never be influenced by the language used to converse outside the classroom, for all students.”
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