The director of graduate studies for the Duke University’s Master of Biostatistics program, Megan Neely, has stepped down from her position after severe backlash over an email in which she warned Chinese students to speak only English on university campus.
In the original email, Neely urged Chinese students to speak English at all times on campus and in other professional settings and consider the possible consequences of their actions. According to the former director of graduate studies, two unnamed staff members allegedly approached her to complain about a group of first year students who were speaking Chinese loudly in public.
Using a collection of headshots taken of first and second year students during orientation, the faculty members were able to identify these students. According to Neely the staff members requested this information to, “write down the names so they could remember them if the students ever interviewed for an internship or asked to work with them for a master’s project.”
The email states, “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 concluded her email with a warning for other students exhibiting similar behaviors:
“To international students, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE keep these unintended consequences in mind when you choose to speak in Chinese in the building.”
And while she acknowledged the struggles of these international students who are living away from their country of origin and having to learn in a foreign language, she continued, “I encourage you to commit to using English 100% of the time when you are in Hock or any other professional setting.”
Neely’s words sparked outrage among students with some doubting the events between faculty ever took place and others accusing her of making similar racist remarks in the past.
In a different email sent by Neely back in February 2018, she issued similar warnings to students speaking foreign languages in public spaces:
“Bottom line: Continuing this practice may make it harder for you and future international students to get research opportunities while in the program. Please keep these potential downstream effects in mind when you choose to or choose not to speak in English outside of the classroom.”
In this email, she once again cited unnamed staff members “the Chair of the Department” and “many faculty” as the source of the complaints.
Students quickly responded with a petition calling for an independent, full-scale investigation into the incident concerning Professor Neely’s emails. They wrote, “we are disheartened… 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.”
Following these accusations, Mary E. Klotman, the Dean of Duke’s School of Medicine has issued the following statement:
“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. And your privacy will always be protected.”
Klotman has requested the university’s Office of Institutional Equity to investigate the matter and notified the students that Professor Neely has stepped down from her position as the director of graduate studies. She concluded her statement with this promise:
“We take this challenge seriously and you have my personal pledge that it will be addressed quickly and sensitively.”
According to The Chronicle, Neely still remains as an assistant professor at Duke University.