Ten days into the semester, dozens of Morgan State University students are showing up for classes and finding there is no one to teach them.
At least six courses at the university had no instructor assigned as of yesterday - even though the semester began Jan. 25.
Administrators were aware of the pending shortage on Jan. 7, according to a memo to faculty this week from Burney J. Hollis, dean of Morgan's liberal arts college.
"Courses still remain uncovered, and students in your department are being confronted by classes in which no instructor has appeared, even this late in the semester," Hollis wrote in the Feb. 1 memo.
Morgan officials said yesterday they are working to solve the problem and plan to hire a full-time professor by next week.
"This is not the way we do business," said Clinton R. Coleman, a university spokesman.
Students said they were bewildered and panicked when they showed up for their classes and no professor was there.
"Nobody knew what was going on," Tonia Watties, a senior communications major, said this week.
Some state legislators promised to question Morgan officials about the situation during the university's coming budget hearings.
"It's very unfair to the students," said Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, a Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the Senate's budget subcommittee on education.
"It's almost like a contract has been broken. If you pay your tuition and register for your classes, you expect to be taught," Hogan said.
The problem comes after a mishap last school year in which hundreds of Morgan students were dropped from the rolls for nonpayment of tuition, then were called back to the classroom halfway through the semester as school officials sought to boost enrollment to avoid cuts in government aid.
This semester's faculty shortage was caused in part by staff changes at Morgan's popular radio station, WEAA. Maxie C. Jackson III, the acting general manager, left in mid-January to take a job at a Virginia radio station. Jackson was scheduled to teach two courses this semester, Morgan officials said.
Communications professor Preston Blakely then became WEAA's general manager and could not teach all of his scheduled courses. Blakely did not return a call for comment yesterday.
With Jackson's departure, there are five faculty members in the communications department, which has about 450 undergraduate students - making it the largest department on the campus of roughly 5,500 undergraduates.
At the beginning of the semester, nine courses in the department were without instructors, but officials managed to fill three of them using other Morgan faculty.
Asked why the university didn't address the staffing problem sooner, Coleman said administrators did not know which classes lacked professors until the semester began.
Carl P. Burrowes, chairman of Morgan's communications studies program, said he tried to get officials above him to act sooner.
"This whole situation was avoidable," he said. "We're a university, and the focus is supposed to be on the students. We shouldn't be scrambling around trying to cover these classes at this point."
Classes still without instructors yesterday included introduction to radio broadcasting, electronic media announcing and programming principles.
To cover them, Hollis has asked professors to teach more classes. "I am making an urgent appeal to the faculty in the Department of Communication Studies to `step up to the bat' and agree to teach one or two of those classes on overload," he wrote in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Sun.
Coleman said course curriculums will be modified to fit into the time remaining in the semester. "The students are not the ones who will suffer because of this," he said.
Steve Behrens, editor of the Current, a Washington-based publication which covers the public broadcasting industry, said most universities would not tap academics to lead their stations. "It sounds very unusual. Universities would generally put academic work first. They have other ways to run the radio station," he said.
State Del. Frank S. Turner, a Howard County Democrat who also teaches at Morgan, said asking professors to teach more would hurt the university. Professors normally teach about four classes a semester, according to state statistics. Some Morgan faculty could teach up to six courses this semester as a result of the shortage, officials said.
"It's not only stressful to teach more, but it's a question of quality of education," Turner said. "You can't give the proper attention to the students."
State Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, who graduated from Morgan in 1968 and received a master's degree there in 1972, said he didn't believe the problem was serious. McFadden said there were similar professor shortages when he attended the university and they were always quickly solved.
"That type of thing happens," said McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat. "I think the school is taking the proper steps to correct the problem."
Sun staff writer Rona Kobell contributed to this article.