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US professor demoted after telling students to speak English

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DURHAM: A Duke University professor has stepped down as a programme head after telling students to speak only English in faculty buildings, the university said on Monday.

Professor Megan Neely at the North Carolina university sent an e-mail to students on Friday last week saying she had received complaints about graduate students speaking Chinese "VERY LOUDLY" in the student lounge and study areas.

"I encourage you to commit to using English 100% of the time when you are in Hock or any other professional setting," Prof Neely said in the e-mail, a copy of which was provided by the university.

The e-mail was distributed widely on social media.

Prof 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.

Professor Mary Klotman, dean of Duke University School of Medicine, apologised to students for the e-mail and said the department would review its biostatistics programme.

"There is absolutely no restriction or limitation on the language you use to converse and communicate with each other," Prof Klotman said in a letter on Saturday.

In her e-mail, Prof Neely said two faculty members wanted to identify the students who had been speaking in Chinese so they could "remember them" if they ever interviewed for an internship or asked to work with them 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 everyone on the floor could understand," Prof Neely said in the e-mail.

"To international students, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE keep these unintended consequences in mind when you choose to speak in Chinese in the building," she added.

Prof Klotman said students' career opportunities would not be influenced by what language they use outside the classroom.

"I deeply regret the hurt my e-mail has caused. It was not my intention," Prof Neely said in a statement distributed by Duke.- REUTERS