Megan Neely

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What was the Accusation?

On January 28, 2019, a news story broke nationwide outlining the details of a controversy involving Duke University professor, Megan Neely, who emailed students asking them to “commit to using English 100% of the time” while in buildings housing the university’s Biostatistics department. Neely, who was also the director of graduate studies in the biostatistics department, sent an email to students with the subject line, “Something to think about…” In the email, she claimed that two faculty members had expressed concerns about Chinese students speaking “very loudly” in the student lounge and study areas. These faculty wanted Neely to provide pictures of the students so they could “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.”

Neely also indicated in the email that these two faculty members 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.” In the next part of her email, Neely aligned herself with the attitudes of her colleagues by stating: “To international students, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE keep these unintended consequences in mind when you choose to speak in Chinese in the building. 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 [sic] 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.”

Many of the international students in the program felt appropriately hurt by Neely’s comments and worried that speaking their own language would have severe consequences for their future advancement not only in the program, but in their prospective careers. In order to address these concerns, Mary Klotman, dean of the Duke University School of Medicine, emailed the biostatistics students directly indicating that Professor Neely had asked to step down and that the Duke office of institutional equity was conducting a thorough review of the program. She reassured them by stating that there would be no restrictions or limitations on the students use of their language or how they choose to communicate with each other nor will their career opportunities be thwarted in any way.

Neely herself issued an apology email, co-signed by her department Chair, Elizabeth Delong, where she emphasized how much she values the international students and their contributions. She claimed that the message she sent in her email was inappropriate and not meant to be hurtful. Neely then asked the students to accept her sincere apology.

Key Apologia Strategies:

Mortification, Corrective Action, Bolstering, Good Intentions




Letter from Mary Klotman, Dean of Duke University Medical School:

Dear Masters of Biostatistics Students,

I am writing to you directly to apologize for the message that was sent yesterday by Professor Megan Neely, the director of graduate studies, regarding the use of Chinese and English in the department.  

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.


Mary E. Klotman, MD
Dean, Duke University School of Medicine

Email from Professors Megan Neely and Elizabeth Delong:

Megan and I want to follow Dean Klotman’s message with our sincere apology. We very much value our international students and their contributions to our program and we recognize that the message that was sent Friday was not appropriate. Although it was not meant to be hurtful, it came out that way and was clearly in error.

Megan wanted to personally convey to you her feelings, which are from the heart:

I deeply regret the hurt my email has caused. It was not my intention. Moving forward, it is my sincerest wish that eery student in the Master of Biostatistics program is successful in all of their endeavors.

Please accept our sincerest apologies.

Megan and Liz


Duke professor issues apology to Chinese speakers (2019, January 29). South China Morning Post. Retrieved from:

Letter to biostatistics students. (2019, January 26). Duke University School of Medicine. Retrieved from:

Mervosh, S. (2019, January 27). Duke University apologizes over professor’s email asking Chinese students to speak English. New York Times. Retrieved from:

Wang, A. B. (2019, January 28). Duke professor apologizes for telling Chinese students to speak English on Campus. The Washington Post. Retrieved from