3:19 PM PDT, August 30, 2021
An 88-year-old psychology professor at the University of Georgia for nearly 50 years resigned after a student allegedly refused to wear a facemask the correct way, according to a report.
Irwin Bernstein’s resignation came minutes into his seminar in what was the second day of in-person teaching.
Bernstein had told his students when the fall semester began that he would teach under a “no-mask, no class,” policy, The Hill reported.
A sign was also posted in front of the classroom to reinforce the rules. Then on Aug. 18, one of his students arrived at his class unmasked, according to The Hill.
When Bernstein told her to go to the office to retrieve a mask, another student reportedly gave her one instead. Once the mask was on her face, she wore it over her mouth, but not over her nose, according to reports.
When Bernstein asked the student to wear the face-covering correctly, she told him that she “couldn’t breathe” and “had a really hard time breathing,” with the mask over her mouth and her nose, according to The University of Georgia’s student newspaper, The Red & Black.
Bernstein said he had asked the student many times to wear her mask correctly, and the student reportedly ignored his requests, The Red & Black reported.
He explained to the students that he could die from COVID-19 due to his underlying health conditions, including as Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and age-related problems, the school newspaper reported.
“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 school newspaper. “I then resigned my retiree-rehire position.”
Hannah Huff, a senior at UGA who witnessed the exchange, told the school newspaper that Bernstein stood in front of the class and said, “That’s it. I’m retired.”
Huff said he then packed up all of his papers into his bag and walked out of the classroom.
Huff, who is a psychology major, told the school newspaper that she needed this class in order to graduate in December, and she was “shocked” and “angry” by the way the unmasked student handled the situation.
In a Tweet on Tuesday, she said, “My professor just walked out because some girl refuses to wear a mask.” She continued, “And [the student who wouldn’t wear the mask correctly] talking about some ‘blessing in disguise’ crap like ma’am I’m just trying to graduate.”
University of Georgia spokesperson Greg J. Trevor told Inside Edition Digital that all students affected by the resignation of this instructor were moved to a new section of their courses and will continue in their studies as expected.
“The University of Georgia is doing everything within its power to protect the health, safety, and wellbeing of our community. The university is a part of a university system and must follow the direction of the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. The USG does not allow its institutions to enact mask or vaccine mandates,” Trevor said. “However, vaccines and face coverings are strongly encouraged, and UGA is offering numerous incentives for motivation.”
He continued: “The university is also providing free vaccines and masks to the community, as well as free COVID-19 testing. In addition, positive cases are required to be reported, and special cleaning and disinfection protocols put in place last year are now standard operating procedures. UGA also has made major improvements in its HVAC system.”
Huff announced on Twitter that she now has to take the 8 a.m. psychology class because of this student.
“This is not what I signed up for. This was not my original plan for my final semester here. It’s heartbreaking,” the student said.
Bernstein wrote a letter to the head of the psychology department who told him that they could not enforce a mask upon their students, the Business Insider reported.
“Resignation was an all or none decision,” Bernstein said. He added, “I felt some relief as I had been getting more concerned as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded in recent weeks.”
Bernstein, who has been a longtime fixture at the university, began teaching part-time a UGA in 1968 and became a full-time faculty member in 1971. In 2011, he still taught as a part-time retiree-rehire for many years. For the fall 2021 semester, he was asked by his former psychology department to return to teach two courses, the paper said.
The ordeal struck a chord with many students who posted about it on social media.