Without Stricter COVID-19 Rules, College Faculty Step Down, Stay Online

Without Stricter COVID-19 Rules, College Faculty Step Down, Stay Online

September 17, 2021

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When Irwin Bernstein returned from retirement last month to teach a psychology seminar at the University of Georgia (UGA), he instituted a personal "no mask, no class" policy. During the second class of the semester, a student who arrived without a mask wouldn't pull a loaned one over her nose, and the 88-year-old professor resigned on the spot.

UGA does not have a mask mandate, but Bernstein told his class that masks were required for his class because his age and health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes meant he could die from COVID-19.

"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, a UGA student newspaper.

Bernstein is among a group of college professors who have resigned due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While faculty may not be leaving academia in droves, the fall 2021 semester has seen several faculty members publicly quit over lack of campus mandates and the new push to teach in-person.

Faculty Object to University System of Georgia Safety Protocols

Bernstein's dramatic exit from his UGA classroom garnered national attention thanks to a Tweet by a student in his seminar. Other professors in the 26-school University System of Georgia are also going public with their grievances over what they perceive to be insufficient COVID-19 safety protocols.

In May, the university system serving more than 340,000 students announced that students and employees will be "strongly encouraged," but not required, to get a COVID-19 vaccine for fall semester. Masks are likewise encouraged but not required inside campus facilities.

Cody Mullins Luedtke, who was set to teach two labs at Georgia State University's Perimeter College, decided that she would not teach in person without the ability to require masks. Days after informing the college of her decision, she was fired.

At the University of North Georgia, two lecturers resigned in August over safety concerns. One of them, Cornelia Lambert, teaches a course on the history of infectious diseases. In a Tweet announcing her resignation, she said the university's policies "ignore science, are socially irresponsible, and are ableist."

Online Instruction Preferred

In a study of 500 college students conducted by University of Nebraska-Lincoln, slightly fewer than half of students (48.7%) said if they had to choose just one form of learning it would be fully in person. The majority were divided between different styles of online offerings.

Additionally, more than one-third of students surveyed (34.8%) thought remote options should remain available at current levels and another 18% thought remote options should increase post-pandemic.

Like many college students, college instructors want to keep the option of remote learning. Whether due to personal risk factors, general fear over viral spread, or desire for flexibility, professors have sought accommodations to teach remotely in record numbers.

The Ohio State University told Reuters that requests for disability-related remote work increased 2.5 times over the past fiscal year. During the pandemic, colleges have allowed faculty with disabilities to teach online. According to employment law experts, however, concerns over COVID-19 are not likely to qualify individuals for remote work.

In August, Cornell University announced that it would not approve disability-related requests for remote work, calling in-person instruction "essential." Two days later, following criticism, the university said that individual deans could approve remote work under extraordinary circumstances.

Feature Image: Ethan Miller / Staff / Getty Images News / Getty Images

College students who flout COVID-19 rules can be sent home, temporarily or permanently, and without refunds. Some suspended students' families plan to sue. As cases of the COVID-19 delta variant increase, colleges are deciding whether they should return to in-person classes or stay online. Colleges across the U.S. have announced plans to return to in-person instruction this fall, but strict COVID-19 campus guidelines will remain in place.