Duke official steps down after encouraging international students to speak English

DURHAM, N.C. -- The director of graduate studies for a Duke School of Medicine program asked to step down after screenshots of an email encouraging Chinese students to speak English surfaced on social media.

The screenshots of an email sent by Dr. Megan Neely surfaced on social media Saturday.

In the email, Neely mentions faculty members picking out a small group of first-year students who they observed speaking Chinese in the student study area.

She wrote the faculty members wanted to write down the names so they could remember them if they were to ever interview for an internship or ask to work for a master's project.

"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 every one the floor could understand," Neely wrote.

Neely then urged international students to keep this in mind when speaking Chinese.

"I have no idea how hard it has been and still is for you to come to the US and have to learn in a non-native language. As such, I have the upmost respect for what you are doing."

"That being said, I encourage you to commit to using English 100% of the time when you are in Hock or any other professional setting," Neely finished.

In interviews with ABC11, Asian Duke students seemed to show mixed feelings regarding the email.

"We are a bit surprised I think and a lot of us are unsurprised at the same time that there are these things that happen behind closed doors that we don't see. And this is just one of the things that happened to show up publicly," said one student.

Another student said the following:

"I'd give her the benefit of the doubt and it sounded like her take on it was to say this is something that will affect your professional prospects and with that being the case you should know about it. The fact that the professors who asked about it...I think they are the ones who should have been punished for it or stepped down."

A statement from Mary E. Klotman, Dean of the School of Medicine reads:

"I understand that many of you felt hurt and angered by this message. 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.

Please be assured that Duke University, the School of Medicine and the Biostatistics Department respect the value of every student, every culture and every language that is spoken. This rich diversity of cultures and languages at Duke only strengthens our academic community.

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. 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.

We will always be committed to ensuring that you are welcomed and included in every aspect of university life. Sadly, this matter demonstrates that we must continue to work on overcoming deep-seated concerns about our cultural awareness and understanding. We take this challenge seriously and you have my personal pledge that it will be addressed quickly and sensitively.

When asked for further comment, Duke declined.