A professor from the University of Georgia (UGA) who came out of retirement promptly resigned after a student in his upper-division psychology seminar class refused to properly wear a mask.
During the second day of class, Irwin Bernstein, an 88-year-old retiree-rehire professor, asked a student who was absent on the first day of class to abide by the "no mask, no class" policy, as was indicated by a sign hanging on the wall in the classroom.
According to the college's newspaper The Red & Black, the unnamed student arrived at the 25-person class without a face covering and was asked to retrieve one from the advising office.
The student was given a disposable mask by a classmate but when she put it on, she refused to cover her nose.
When Bernstein asked her to wear the mask properly, the student complained she "couldn't breathe" and "had a really hard time breathing."
He explained to the student he could die from [the virus] due to underlying health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and age-related problems.
When he asked the student to pull up her mask again 15 minutes later, she ignored Bernstein. This prompted him to immediately announce his resignation and leave the classroom.
In an email to the student paper, Bernstein wrote:
"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."
"I then resigned my retiree-rehire position."
Fellow students were angry over the uncooperative student's insubordination halting their learning.
Fourth-year psychology student Hannah Huff, who was seated at the front of the class was shocked and later recalled:
"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."
She also aired her grievances on Twitter.
Huff said her peers were furious and they stared in disbelief at the student.
The class was a requirement for psychology majors in order to graduate.
One of the classmates confronted the defiant student and told her, "You know we need this class to graduate, right?"
The student allegedly said in response:
"Well, this is a blessing in disguise."
Bernstein also told the paper:
"Resignation was an all or none decision ... I felt some relief as I had been getting more concerned as the [the virus] pandemic unfolded in recent weeks."
Huff eventually moved to another psychology seminar from her original 9:30 a.m. class time to 8:00 a.m.
"The damage is done," said Huff.
"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 [the student]. 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."
University of Georgia spokesperson Greg Trevor said in a statement all students affected by Bernstein's sudden departure have been moved to a new section of their courses and have continued with their studies.
Bernstein said the head of the psychology department had informed him he could not enforce a mask policy on his students, but after learning two students were absent because they tested positive from the virus, he enforced the mask policy in his classroom.
UGA only encourages students to wear masks inside campus facilities and does not allow its institutions to enact mask or vaccine mandates.
The lax policy is a growing concern amidst the backdrop of a growing virus variant that is more contagious and causing a spike in hospitalization in Georgia as well as in many other parts of the country.