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Grad program director who stepped down also sent email in Feb. 2018 telling students to speak English

Special to The Chronicle | Email sent by Neely in February 2018. The accuracy of this screenshot has been verified with administration.
Special to The Chronicle | Email sent by Neely in February 2018. The accuracy of this screenshot has been verified with administration.

A director of graduate studies stepped down after sending an email Friday warning students not to speak Chinese. She also sent an email less than one year earlier telling students to speak English. 

In the Feb. 28, 2018 email, Megan Neely, director of graduate studies for the Master of Biostatistics program, wrote that “many faculty” had noticed international students not speaking English in the department’s break room. Although most faculty members were not named, the email—with the subject line “To Speak English or To Not Speak English”—refers to a “recent report” by Department Chair Elizabeth DeLong, which was the catalyst for Neely’s email.

“Bottom line: Continuing this practice may make it harder for you and future international students to get research opportunities while in the program,” Neely wrote in the email.

Mary Klotman, dean of the School of Medicine, confirmed to The Chronicle Sunday that the February email would be included in the Office of Institutional Equity review of the program that was announced after the Friday email came to light.

“I don’t know details around the early 2018 email at this time, but it will be part of the review,” Klotman wrote in an email to The Chronicle.

The Chronicle reached out to DeLong—who is listed on Duke's website as having assumed the department chair position in 2007—Saturday evening about the 2018 email. DeLong did not directly address any of the questions sent to her, but shared a statement about recent developments.

“I welcome the review by the Office of Institutional Equity and the opportunity to strengthen our program and support our students,” she wrote.

Neely did not respond to request for comment from The Chronicle regarding her February email.

“I don’t like being the language police, but I have gotten these comments enough times in the past few weeks that I feel like I should share them with you,” Neely wrote in the February email.

She continued to explain her reasoning behind the statement.

“Beyond the obvious opportunity to practice and perfect your English, speaking in your native language in the department may give 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 the February email. “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.”

Neely wrote in the Friday email to first-year and second-year Master of Biostatistics students that the two faculty members were trying to identify students’ names in case the students interviewed for an internship or wanted to work on a master’s project with them.

“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,” she wrote in the Friday email.

The email prompted Neely’s resignation as the program’s director of graduate studies, but Michael Schoenfeld, vice president of public affairs and government relations, confirmed that she remains in her position as assistant professor of biostatistics and bioinformatics.

When asked whether the 2018 email provoked any administrative action at the time and for information about the two professors named in Neely's Friday email, Schoenfeld wrote that it would be part of the OIE review and confirmed the screenshot of the email—first posted on Facebook pages along with the more recent emails—was accurate.

"Duke does not have any restriction or limitation on the language that can be used outside the classroom," Schoenfeld wrote Sunday. "Indeed, we believe that a global university should reflect the languages and cultures of our students. And further, career opportunities and recommendations should never be influenced by the language students use to converse outside the classroom."

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