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88-year-old professor resigns mid-class after student refuses to wear a mask: I 'risked my life to defend my country in the Air Force' — not willing to risk my life to teach unmasked students

Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

An 88-year-old University of Georgia professor announced an abrupt retirement in the middle of class because a student reportedly refused to wear a mask over her nose, according to a Monday report from Insider.

What are the details?

Irwin Bernstein, a former professor of psychology, resigned just minutes into a class after a student reportedly refused to wear her mask up over her nose.

At the time of this reporting, the University of Georgia does not require students, faculty, or staff to wear face masks while inside campus facilities, including classrooms.

Bernstein told the school newspaper Red & Black that an unnamed female student showed up at his seminar on the second day of class without a mask. Despite the school's policy of not requiring masks, Bernstein opted to impose his own mandate in his class and wrote on the board in front of the classroom, "No mask, no class."

One of the female student's peers reportedly provided her with a mask, but she was said to have refused to wear it over her nose, saying that she found it difficult to breathe.

Bernstein said that he asked the student repeatedly to correctly put on the mask, but she reportedly refused.

He then reportedly attempted to explain to the student that due to his age and health disposition — having type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and more — he was further at risk of developing complications should he contract COVID-19.

"That's it," he reportedly told the class in response to her continued refusals. "I'm retired."

He told the student paper that he would not risk his life teaching in a classroom after having served his country in the Air Force.

"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," he said, and according to the report, students watched him pack his things and walk out of the classroom.

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

What else?

Hannah Huff, a student in Bernstein's class, said that she couldn't fathom why a student would disrespect the elderly professor in this manner.

"The damage is done," she told the student paper. "Obviously [the student] 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."

She added, "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. 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."

According to the school paper, Bernstein began his career as a part-time lecturer in 1968 and became a full-time faculty member in 1971 while continuing research at Emory University's Yerkes Primate Center until 1993. He worked at the University of Georgia on a full-time basis until 2011, but continued his career as a part-time retiree-rehire for many years thereafter.

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