A University of Georgia professor resigned during a class on Tuesday after a student refused to properly wear a mask, according to the college’s student newspaper The Red & Black.
Irwin Bernstein, an 88-year-old retiree-rehire professor, had reportedly asked students in his psychology class to follow a “no mask, no class” policy, which was written on a sign at the front of the room.
During the second class of the semester, an unnamed student who arrived unmasked was asked by Bernstein to collect one from the advising office, another student in the class told The Red & Black. When she was instead offered a disposable mask from another student, she put it on but did not cover her nose.
Bernstein asked her to wear it properly, but she said she had a “really hard time breathing” with it over her mouth and nose.
Bernstein then explained to the student that due to underlying health conditions and age-related issues, he could die from COVID-19, he told The Red & Black in an email.
Around 15 minutes into the class, he reportedly asked the student again to pull her mask up, but she did not respond. He then announced his resignation and left the class.
“At that point, I said that whereas I had risked my life to defend my country while in the Air Force, I was not willing to risk my life to teach a class with an unmasked student during this pandemic,” Bernstein said in an email to The Red & Black. “I then resigned my retiree-rehire position.”
Other students in the class were shocked and angry, fourth-year psychology student Hannah Huff told the paper.
“Professor Bernstein said, ‘That’s it. I’m retired,’ and we watched him pack all of his papers into his bag and walk out of the classroom,” Huff said.
“The damage is done,” she said of her peer. “Obviously she has her values, and they’re clearly not going to change even when someone asked you to do something that will make them feel comfortable.”
“Bernstein is there for you. Like, he came out of retirement to do something for us, but you just can’t take it out of the kindness of your heart to put a piece of fabric on properly.”
The class was a requirement to graduate for psychology majors. All students affected by the resignation were moved to a new section of their courses and would continue in their studies as expected, University of Georgia spokesperson Greg Trevor said in a statement.
The university “strongly encourages” but does not mandate that face masks be worn inside campus facilities.
Coronavirus cases have been surging in Georgia and much of the country as the more contagious delta variant of the virus drives up infections and hospitalizations. The University System of Georgia has not implemented a requirement for masks or vaccinations, despite pleas from some students and faculty members.
The university must follow the direction of the system, which does not allow its institutions to enact mask or vaccine mandates, Trevor noted.
Bernstein, who said he had been informed that two students were absent after testing positive for COVID-19, enforced his own mask rule.
He said he felt “some relief” after resigning as he’d been growing more concerned as the pandemic unfolded in recent weeks.
Bernstein is not the first to resign over this type of issue. Two lecturers at the University of North Georgia also stepped down last week over concerns about teaching potentially unvaccinated and unmasked students in person during the surge, the Associated Press reported.