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New chair named for biostatistics and bioinformatics department, will take helm in June

Duke's biostatistics and bioinformatics department came under fire earlier this year when its director of graduate studies sent an email out to master's students warning them not to speak Chinese in the building. 

Now, David Page, Kellett and Vilas distinguished achievement professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will replace Elizabeth DeLong, current chair of the department.

"Dr. DeLong announced in July of 2018 her wishes to step down as chair of the department in early 2019, after serving for a decade in that role," Jill Boy, associate dean and chief communications officer for the School of Medicine, wrote in an email Friday.

Page, who works in the School of Medicine and Public Health's department of biostatistics and medical informatics at Wisconsin, is set to begin the role in June. He earned a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign before heading to Oxford University, where he studied "biomedical applications of machine learning," according to a news release.

After emails sent by then-Director of Graduate Studies Megan Neely surfaced in January, Neely stepped down from the role. Neely's emails warned Chinese students that it may be more difficult to receive research opportunities if faculty members heard them speaking Chinese in the building. Neely remains an assistant professor in the department, Boy confirmed Friday.

Mary Klotman, dean of the medical school, called for an Office for Institutional Equity investigation into the department in January. Boy wrote that the probe is still ongoing.

The department established two new divisions during DeLong's tenure—statistical and computational biology and translational biomedical informatics. 

Boy wrote that DeLong will remain as a faculty member, and she will continue to lead the Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Research Design Core within the department. 

"Dr. DeLong has been a wonderful colleague and innovative leader," Boy wrote. "Under Dr. DeLong’s leadership, the department has grown to over 50 faculty."

DeLong did not directly respond to an emailed request for comment, but Boy responded to the reporter by forwarding the information that had been sent to The Chronicle's initial inquiry from a different reporter. Her successor, Page, wrote that what drew him most to Duke was the people.

"I’m especially excited about the current campus emphasis on developing and using cutting-edge artificial intelligence algorithms to improve health, which is the focus of my own research," he wrote. "I’m also originally from North Carolina, and it means a lot to return and plug into exciting initiatives here aimed at improving the health of everyone in the region and beyond."

When asked what type of culture he planned to create in the department in regards to diversity and inclusion, Page said he would emphasize them in the department and the school.

David Page was recently named the next chair of Duke's Biostatistics and Bioinformatics department. | Special to the Chronicle

"This will take concrete plans," Page wrote. "I will bring experience from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and look forward to working with the faculty, staff, and students in our department and School and campus leadership to ensure we offer a welcoming and inclusive experience to students and every member of our faculty and staff."

Regarding walking into a department that had recently faced a controversy, Page wrote that "the immediate responses to the incident from Dean Klotman and from departmental and campus leaders convinced me that I’m moving to a place that gives top priority to diversity and inclusion."

As for his overall goals, Page emphasized pushing the department ahead in its discipline.

"Very simply, I want Duke to be the world leader in data science for health. This includes maintaining a department-wide balance of new algorithm development and engagement with clinical and health researchers who need data science applications," Page wrote. "I am excited about what the future holds."

Nathan Luzum contributed reporting.