Funny at Duke

Have you, folks, heard about the linguistic dust-up at Duke? What’s really funny is that the students are too foreign to speak English but very American when it comes to manipulating very Anglo sensibilities.

What’s even more funny is that the idiot professor was trying to be helpful.


40 thoughts on “Funny at Duke”

  1. The REALLY absurd thing about all this is that the professor who sent out the silly e-mail got canned, but the Duke administration showed no concern about the “two unnamed faculty members” who asked the professor to help them track down and identify the Chinese-speaking students, so the faculty members could discriminate against them later??!


      1. Although it’s incredibly naive. She should have challenged those professors and not said anything to the students. This is the freakin’ US. There are all kinds of speakers of all kinds of languages, and we don’t have a national language, we’ve got English by convention as lingua franca but you can converse in whatever. I wouldn’t have fired her though, just said hey, let people talk in whatever.


        1. Besides, how is it any of the faculty members’ business what the students were talking about in private conversation? (Maybe they were worried that the students were commenting on how fat the professors’ asses were.)


          1. They have a huge problem in their field with having an enormous number of students who barely speak any English at all. Imagine standing in front of a classroom and trying to teach very complex material to people who can’t communicate with you. Or working at a lab where nobody understands oral instructions. The professors were responding to this situation by saying, hell, I’m not inviting anybody to my lab who doesn’t make an effort to at least somewhat improve their English while on school grounds. Professors have an absolute right to hire anybody they think would be of help and not hire people they don’t think would be of help. This is a field where people spend an enormous amount of time writing grants and fighting for funding. They always have a lot more applicants than they can accept. So the students who don’t try to make themselves more marketable are ruining their chances. The professor was simply pointing out this fact of objective reality. There is nothing racist or offensive about gently reminding people that poor language skills lower their chances at employment.


            1. Come on, when you’re in a country with a language different than yours, you learn that country’s language on your own time.

              When I was stationed overseas in Germany and Italy, I didn’t try to improve my skills in German or Italian by talking in those languages to my fellow Americans who could barely speak them (and weren’t interested — most of them were in the English-speaking U.S. military).

              And when I shopped in Sicilian stores before I became fluent, I didn’t waste the store employees’ valuable time if their English was much better than my primitive Italian.

              You learn a foreign language on your own time — not when you’re conducting business or talking to a fellow-countryman.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. The faculty manual at my school states that faculty members must be able to communicate competently in English. I wonder if this requirement is “racist”….


    1. I once observed during the hiring process that the person we interviewed for a professor of Spanish position had very poor Spanish. People reacted like I said something extremely offensive.

      So probably yes.


      1. I’ve been told it is. But people not competent at English are for obvious reasons really impaired for work. A foreign accent is one thing but you’ve got to be able to really speak and also write a clear and error-free memo, proposal, whatever. I really wonder about certain people who have publications in English but can’t write a memo. And it took me a long time to understand why students were so thrilled that I “speak clearly and comprehensibly in both English and Spanish” — well of course I do, I always thought, you have to at least do that — but then evidently it is rarer than I realize.


  3. The email was weird and inappropriate, but the two professors who wanted names and pictures are even more so. I understand she was trying to help the students by addressing these concerns, but you do that by addressing the people at fault, not the students who happen to be having private conversations in a public space.

    I have coworkers who hold private conversations in different languages at work all the time. For a lot of people from other countries, it’s just nice to speak to someone in your native language. As long as it doesn’t detract from them doing their jobs, what does it matter what language they use for private conversations? It’s not like these students were holding a public forum or refusing to speak English to their professors in class. And it says nothing about their ability to speak English. That’s a problematic generalization for anyone who speaks another language.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As I said, this is a widespread and serious problem in the field. If it didn’t exist, nobody would care what language the students spoke in the hallways. But instead of addressing the serious and pervasive issue of students not having the sufficient language skills, everything devolved into the discussion of “evil racist professors persecuting students out of spite.” Why not assume instead that professors are not evil and are motivated by something good?


      1. ” this is a widespread and serious problem in the field”

        what I remember is very different levels in reading and speaking/understanding, which is a problem caused by lots of different factors that won’t be solved by having them speak English to each other…

        “Why not assume instead that professors are not evil and are motivated by something good”

        In 2019? Only evil motives exist for anything… didn’t you get the memo?


        1. Great point about diversity in your post. People who squawk the most about diversity would die of shock if they had to spend a day among the real human diversity that includes an enormous variety of acceptable speech, sex-related behavior, positions on gender and race, workplace behaviors, etc.


      2. Because it doesn’t look helpful. If these people have that much trouble with English they need instruction in it — not to be forced to have personal conversations with other Chinese people in it. I personally hate it when Americans want to practice foreign languages with me — I teach them in class, not outside class for free; there are a lot of professional things I do outside work for free, and that some would charge for or not do, but practicing a foreign language with another non-native speaker I will not. With all friends I speak in the language we both speak best ! ! !


        1. Ok, I’m honestly not getting this. This is how we teach foreign languages in this country. We encourage students to speak to each other in the foreign language. That’s how they learn. Do you teach in some other way? The students are supposed to speak in Spanish to each other in class, at the conversation hour, at all the events we organize for them. We constantly encourage them to go have coffee together and practice. We give group and lab assignments to force them to practice with each other. How else would they learn?

          Of course, ideally they should practice with a native speaker. But realistically what native speaker will want to waste time on talking to people whose language is very basic?

          This is how I teach languages. Twenty non-native speakers and me, another non-native speaker. And it works. Why are we suddenly saying it doesn’t?


            1. The ones who really want to learn do practice outside of class. An hour 15 minutes twice a week won’t do it. I often hear my students in the hallways speak Spanish to each other because they want to learn and get better.


    2. The letter to me seemed weird.

      First of all, I can’t believe a bunch of profs wouldn’t interrupt grad students to introduce themselves or make demands, especially if they were bothered by the volume.

      Second of all, why would you assist the profs in picking students out of lineup but not offer to identify the profs to the students? I would want to know which profs hated that I spoke my native language in my off time or who wanted a higher level of skill than I currently possessed. She just looks like a narc.

      Third, for a emails aimed at students who might have difficulty speaking English, her emails have a lot of business euphemisms. That’s not how I’d write to people who I suspect have trouble reading/speaking English as their second or third language.

      Fourth, real English practice would involve practicing a more Westernized accent because Americans often react very negatively to accents regardless if the spoken English is perfect. How would “practicing in the common area” with other Mandarin speaking students help with that thick accent?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Totally agree on all points. Her letter certainly doesn’t look like an effort to be helpful. And this idea that people should speak to each other in a language others can understand, so they can hear what is said, is something people usually grow out of by 8th grade if not much sooner.


        1. You hate it when non-native speakers try to practice Spanish with you (and so do I) because you don’t need any practice. You are like a native speaker. It’s an unequal relationship and a total waste of time for you. But who should learners practice with if native speakers understandably can’t be bothered?


  4. Surprised that the elephant in the room is having an assistant prof administering a graduate program. And she made a few errors in English in her own e-mail about this subject. Moats and beams.


        1. No, you are missing the point. She already has a job at a really fantastic school. Her career is going great. It’s these students who are depriving themselves of an opportunity to get invited to join a lab. People are already reluctant to hire them. That’s the real issue.


            1. Now who’s stereotyping people based on their ethnicity and assuming they value living up to stereotypes more than getting employed?

              Let’s totally help people preserve what we decided their culture must be at the expense of their having careers.


              1. She mastered it enough to get a really great job. And they are in a situation where professors don’t even want to pick them for a lab. This is the whole issue here. She could have stayed silent but that wouldn’t have changed the reality of these students not being selected for jobs. And that’s exactly what everybody else does. Nobody mentions the issue, and students are passed over for employment opportunities. You are picking on insignificant details of her email and disregarding the real issue here.


              2. She handled it all wrong. Especially mentioning professors who wanted students identified for
                Speaking their native language on the own time. She’d have been better off starting a weekly movie night with the students where the only requirement for admission was to speak English during the event. I know a bit about Chinese culture from my own experience of having Chinese ancestors on my mothers side of the family. Her concern is admirable, her execution, less so.


              3. I absolutely agree that it’s so much easier not to care at all and pretend nothing is happening. That’s what I do. It’s always the professors who genuinely care who get all the flak. I don’t care, and everybody adores me.

                As for a movie night, you probably don’t know what an enormous headache it is to get copyright clearances to show a movie in college. It’s next to impossible even for college professors. How a biochem Prof could justify the hassle and the expense is a mystery.


          1. You really know how to pick em.

            The Duke Asian Students Association also issued a statement over the weekend slamming the Friday email as discriminatory and hypocritical, especially “given Duke’s dependence on international students and faculty for their undergraduate and graduate programs”.

            “For international students, speaking in their mother tongue is a means of comfort and familiarity with a home and culture that is already oftentimes suppressed within the United States,” the association said.



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