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Neely says she 'deeply regret(s) the hurt my email has caused' in note to department students

After stepping down from her role as director of graduate studies, Megan Neely expressed "deep regret" for hurt caused by her email that told students not to speak Chinese.

Neely, who was the director of graduate studies for the Master of Biostatistics program until she stepped down Saturday, sent an email Friday to biostatistics masters students encouraging them not to speak Chinese. Neely also sent an email in February 2018 telling biostatistics students to speak English.

The apology email—sent from Department Chair Elizabeth DeLong’s email account but signed by both DeLong and Neely—acknowledged that the Friday email “was not appropriate.”

“Although it was not meant to be hurtful, it came out that way and was clearly in error,” DeLong wrote.

DeLong also included a statement from Neely in the email.

“I deeply regret the hurt my email has caused,” Neely wrote in the email from DeLong. “It was not my intention. Moving forward, it is my sincerest wish that every student in the Master of Biostatistics is successful in all of their endeavors.”

The controversy erupted after screenshots were posted online of the Friday email in which Neely told students that two faculty members had approached her about students speaking Chinese “very loudly” in lounge and study areas.

“They were disappointed that these students were not taking the opportunity to improve their English and were being so impolite as to have a conversation that not everyone on the floor could understand,” Neely wrote in the Friday email.

Mary Klotman, dean of the School of Medicine, also reached out to the students Saturday afternoon and assured them that speaking a foreign language was not a problem.

“There is absolutely no restriction or limitation on the language you use to converse and communicate with each other,” Klotman wrote in the email. “Your career opportunities and recommendations will not in any way be influenced by the language you use outside the classroom. And your privacy will always be protected.”

A committee of Duke graduate students drafted a petition calling for the creation of an independent committee to investigate Neely’s emails. More than 2,000 people signed the petition as of Sunday afternoon, according to the graduate students who drafted the petition.

This committee of students, who identify as “concerned Duke students,” noted that they “do not in any way represent the views of the Chinese student body at Duke, nor the graduate student body as a whole.” 

First-year Chinese students in the Master of Biostatistics program have issued a joint declaration, originally in Chinese and translated by The Chronicle, in which they stated that “they do not tolerate racism in any form.”

“We will contact the School of Medicine and the Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, asking for a thorough investigation of the incident,” the declaration states. 

The students added that they hoped the University would identify the two faculty members and verify the details mentioned in Neely’s email. 

When The Chronicle reached out to the students, they refused to take interviews on an individual basis in order to protect their privacy.

Academic Council Chair Don Taylor wrote in an email to the committee Sunday morning that the Executive Committee of the Academic Council will include the matter on its agenda for its Jan. 30 meeting.

“I am sorry this happened, and students deserve and should expect to be treated respectfully at Duke,” Taylor wrote in the email. “All of our students are valuable, and should be valued by the faculty at Duke.”

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