Duke Professor's Email to Chinese Students Causes Uproar

Duke director out after telling students not to speak Chinese

A United States university professor has been removed as director of a graduate programme, amid a furore over an email she sent urging students not to speak Chinese.

Neely stepped down on Saturday as director of graduate studies for the university's Master of Biostatistics Programme but will continue her faculty teaching, Duke said in a statement.

'Speaking Chinese or other worldwide languages, doesn't mean our English is not good, ' said Evan Wang, who graduated from the biostatistics master's program in 2015.

Some students posted Neely's email on social media, causing it to go viral and be picked up by Chinese media outlets.

Some of Neely's students from ethnic minority department, however, described her as a supportive program director and someone who definitely wasn't a racist.

The controversy erupted after screenshots of Dr Neely's email to biostatistics students began circulating online over the weekend. This image shows the Duke University Chapel in the west campus in Durham, North Carolina, April 11, 2006.

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She said in the message to an email list for the program's students that two faculty members came to her to complain about students loudly speaking Chinese in a common area. The unnamed faculty members also requested photos of the program's students so they could remember them in future internship interviews or if they asked to work with them on master's projects. The employees "were disappointed that these students have not perceived the possibilities to improve your English and so rude were to have a conversation, could not understand anyone around you".

In an email on Saturday afternoon, seen by the Chronicle, Mary Klotman, dean of the medical school, apologized to students for Neely's email and announced she will be stepping down from her role as the director of graduate studies for the program. A school official confirmed to The Chronicle the authenticity of her email, which was sent to first- and second-year students on Friday. "As a result, they may be more hesitant to hire or work with worldwide students because communication is such an important part of what we do".

For students of color at Duke who enjoy conversing in Mandarin, Korean, Arabic, Spanish, Hindi, etc. with friends and family outside an academic setting, this incident is, needless to say, tremendously disheartening. "Your career opportunities and recommendations will not in any way be influenced by the language you use outside the classroom", the dean said in an email. "And your privacy will always be protected", said Klotman. Klotman said she has asked Duke's Office of Institutional Equity to investigate the matter. It was not my intention, ' said Neely, who remains an assistant professor.

She added that she had the utmost respect for global students.

While students may need to speak English in classrooms and research labs, they should be able to choose which language to speak in social settings, she said.

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