Following the sudden departure of GW’s only Portuguese-language professor, the University has discontinued teaching the language for the semester.
Fourteen students were signed up for the Portuguese for Spanish Speakers class at the beginning of the fall semester. After two meetings of the course in early September, students received an e-mail from Professor Maria Byrnes announcing her sudden departure from the University.
“After a good deal of back and forth, it appears that my 15 year career as an adjunct at GWU in Portuguese, French and Spanish has come to a surprising end,” Byrnes said in the e-mail, giving no other reason for the leave. University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard declined to answer why Byrnes left.
Byrnes said students would hear from school administrators soon about the replacement professor for the course. Due to the late cancelation, however, no instructor could take the job. The course was the only Portuguese class offered at the University.
“The University told us that people had stayed over [Labor Day Weekend], canceling plans with their own families, to find us a new professor,” Mariano Aveledo, a sophomore who had been enrolled in the course, said.
Aveledo said the following Wednesday, Jefferson McCarty, a supervisor in the department, contacted the class to say GW was unable to find a replacement professor for the semester.
“It was a bit helpful to know that they were working hard, but in the end, they never found us a new teacher,” Aveledo said.
With the University’s add and drop period coming to an end that Friday, students had to scramble to find a replacement course for the time period.
“About four of us got together to try to find other classes to take for the semester, but everything was filled,” Mariana Quiroga, a sophomore from Colombia, said. “The deadline to drop was just about to happen and we were all just really stressed out.”
Mariana contacted Ed McCarthy, an undergraduate academic adviser, asking him if there were any courses she could be signed into. McCarthy told her that she would have to go directly through each professor because every course had already been filled.
One French professor made an exception, but Quiroga said that just getting into the course was not the end of her trouble.
“This was already two weeks into the semester, and I had to spend the entire weekend trying to learn the stuff that I missed,” said Quiroga. “I walked into class on Monday and had to take a quiz with the rest of the class.”
Sherrard said that the decision to cancel the course was not taken lightly.
“The department regretted to have to upset the students’ course schedules,” Sherrard said.
Sherrard said that students who worked with their academic advisors were able to find a replacement for the course, including traveling to other D.C. colleges to get credit for the language.
“Some students have enrolled in Portuguese classes at Georgetown University, as part of GW’s partnership with the Consortium of Universities in the D.C. area, and some students have chosen to enroll in other language classes at GW,” said Sherrard.
Byrnes did not respond to requests for comment.
This article appeared in the September 30, 2010 issue of the Hatchet.