Duke professor steps down after asking students to speak English 100% of the time

Megan Neely resigned from an administrative position after sending a “discriminatory” email to Chinese students. (Photo: Duke University/Getty Images)
Megan Neely resigned from an administrative position after sending a “discriminatory” email to Chinese students. (Photo: Duke University/Getty Images)

A Duke University professor has resigned from her position as the head of a master’s program, after students complained about an email sent wrote encouraging them to speak English, rather than their native language.

Students are calling for a larger investigation of the email sent by the professor, Megan Neely, PhD, to first- and second-year students of the Master of Biostatistics program in the university’s School of Medicine on Friday. The email warned students of the “unintended consequences” of choosing to speak Chinese while on campus.

“Something to think about…” was the subject line of Neely’s email, which encouraged students “to commit to using English 100% of the time.”

Neely detailed an encounter she had with two faculty members, where she was asked to present photos of her master’s students. According to Neely’s account, the faculty members proceeded to point out a small group who were heard speaking Chinese in the student lounge areas, and wrote down the students’ names, so the professors could remember them in case one of the students asked to work with them in the future.

“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 bold, underlined font. “To international students, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE keep these unintended consequences in mind when you choose to speak in Chinese in the building.”

The professor additionally copied second-year students to remind them to do the same, “given they are currently applying for jobs.” According to someone tweeting about the incident, those students had already received a similar email last year.

Neither Neely nor other administrators from the School of Medicine responded to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment. However, the dean of the school, Mary Klotman, published a letter of apology to students on Saturday, assuring them that “there is absolutely no restriction or limitation on the language you use to converse and communicate with each other.”

“I have asked the university’s Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) to conduct a thorough review of the Master’s of Biostatistics Program and to recommend ways in which we can improve the learning environment for students from all backgrounds,” Klotman’s letter read, in part. “In addition, Dr. Neely has asked to step down as director of graduate studies for the master’s program effective immediately and will be replaced by an interim DGS to be named shortly.”

Still, a group of students are petitioning for a “full-scale investigation into the actions of the two unnamed professors referenced in Dr. Neely’s email,” and the university’s adoption of a “zero tolerance policy for discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and national origin.” According to a public statement dated Jan. 27, 2,000 students had already signed the petition.

An additional statement was posted on Facebook by the Asian Students Association and the Duke International Association, pointing out that Neely’s behavior was not only “hypocritical,” but also “discriminatory.”

“The first description of Duke University that appears in a browser search touts its international campuses and its reputation as a ‘global university,'” the joint statement reads. “Duke should prove it.”

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