88-Year-Old Professor Resigns Mid-Class When Student Refuses to Wear Mask

A long-time college professor has resigned from the University of Georgia (UGA) after a student in his classroom refused to wear her mask properly.

On August 24, 88-year-old Irwin Bernstein, a UGA retiree-rehire psychology professor, was teaching his second class of the semester. During his lesson, an unnamed female student walked into the 25-person classroom without a mask. The student was given a disposable mask but refused to put it on properly, stating that she "couldn't breathe" and "had a really hard time breathing," according to reports from the university's student newspaper, The Red & Black.

Bernstein had a "No mask, No class" sign on his board which all students saw when they arrived in his classroom. During Bernstein's interaction with the student, he tried to explain to her that due to underlying health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and his advanced age, that he could die from COVID-19.

Having prior knowledge that two of his absent students tested positive for COVID-19, Bernstein decided to retire from UGA in the middle of class once the student refused to wear her mask correctly.

"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."

"Resignation was an all or none decision," Bernstein continued. "I felt some relief as I had been getting more concerned as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded in recent weeks."

College lecture hall
On August 27, a long-time college professor has resigned from the University of Georgia (UGA) after a student in his classroom refused to wear her mask properly. The above pictures shows an empty college lecture hall. Getty Images

Bernstein was informed by the head of the psychology department that he could not enforce a mask mandate [or vaccines] upon his students, but he can encourage them to wear masks according to the policies of the University System of Georgia.

"I am sorry that the pandemic has caused so much dissension," Bernstein continued in the email. "I personally do not agree that stimulating the economy is more important than people's lives and am disappointed that some people feel that it is."

Fourth-year psychology major Hannah Huff spoke briefly to The Red & Black about Bernstein's resignation. Huff expressed disdain for the situation due to her being close to graduation and her needing Bernstein's class to fulfill her credit requirements.

"This is not what I signed up for. This was not my original plan for my final semester here. It's heartbreaking. It's surreal," Huff said.

"I kept thinking to myself, 'There's no way this is happening.' There was definitely hidden hostility in that room, and I do feel a little bit of anger toward this girl, but mainly agitation," Huff concluded.

Bernstein started teaching part-time at UGA in 1968 and became a full-time faculty member in 1971 while continuing his research efforts at Emory University's Yerkes Primate Center until 1993.

Even though Bernstein retired from UGA in 2011, he's continued to teach as a part-time retiree-rehire for many years and was asked by his former psychology department to return this year to teach two courses during the 2021-2022 semester. Bernstein has resigned from both classes.

Newsweek has reached out to UGA for further comments.