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New biostatistics and bioinformatics chair is optimistic for first year

After being thrown into the national spotlight in the spring, Duke’s biostatistics and bioinformatics department has a new chair. 

David Page—previously Kellett and Vilas distinguished achievement professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison—was appointed as the chair of the department in March, telling The Chronicle that he planned to create a “welcoming and inclusive experience to students and every member of our faculty and staff.”

In January, screenshots of emails surfaced in which Megan Neely, then-director of graduate studies, warned students not to speak Chinese within the department. Neely soon stepped down from her role, and Department Chair Elizabeth DeLong announced she was stepping down from her position in March.

Assuming his role as department chair, Page wrote in an email to The Chronicle that the rapid action taken by the University in response to the emails had proved to him that Duke would be a place that values diversity in its community. 

Now, after having held this position for a few months, Page remains optimistic.

“I feel more confident than ever that Duke is committed to creating a community where every member of our faculty, staff and student body feels respected and valued,” he wrote.

In addition to his role as department chair, Page will continue his academic career at Duke, researching the applications of machine learning to health care, while overseeing graduate students. Page’s goal is for the department to be a leader in the field of health data science and “to improve human health in Durham, in the U.S. and around the world.”

In January’s email, Neely encouraged biostatistics master students to “commit to using English 100% of the time” and wrote that two faculty members approached her and were disappointed that the 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.” 

Just days after the email, Mary Klotman, dean of the medical school, directed Duke’s Office for Institutional Equity to conduct a comprehensive review of the Masters of Biostatistics program.

“The assessment provides a number of recommendations including diversity and inclusion education and training, enhanced student orientation programs, and clear and regular communications about values and policies,” Page wrote. “Department faculty and staff have already undergone implicit bias training and conflict resolution training, and we will continue efforts to grow and improve.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Page's email about how rapid action had proved to him that Duke values diversity was sent in August. It was sent in March. The Chronicle regrets the error.

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