Thursday, January 21, 2016


Samuel John Sornberger, M. D., Ph. D. (Grip's 1899 photo.)
The Cortland Democrat, Friday, August 14, 1891.

Dr. Sornberger Has Something to Say to Superintendent Draper—Some
Plain Facts.
CORTLAND, N. Y., July 11, 1891.
Hon. A. S. Draper, Superintendent of Public Instruction.
   DEAR SIR:—I trust that you will not consider me discourteous if in the present crisis I enter a vigorous protest against such arbitrary action in the removal of a member of the profession as you have signified your intention of exercising in my case. This I do, not with the expectation that it will modify in any manner the result of the case at issue, but in the interests of the profession which I have for twelve years represented, and in the interest of the cause of education.
   Since returning from our visit to your office on July 3rd, '91, I have received from my attorney the following points which he considers state your position fairly in reference to my removal from the faculty of the Cortland Normal School:
   1st. That no charges have been made against me.
   2nd. That the Local Board have the right to manage the school, subject to the approval of the Superintendent: that such management extends to the employment and removal of all members of the faculty, and that unless a removal is simply for the purpose of making a place for some one else, in his judgment it is the duty of the Superintendent to approve the action of the Board, provided the Board had given reasonable notice to the person intended to be removed, so as to afford him an opportunity to obtain another situation.
   3rd. That, in his judgment, the fact that the Board has called for the resignation of the teacher, to take effect after a reasonable period from the date of the call, is sufficient evidence of the lack of harmony between the Local Beard and the teacher which is essential to the successful conduct of the school and, therefore, it is his duty to sanction the action of the Local Board.
   1. While submitting to the inevitable with, I trust, the dignity becoming a professional teacher, the circumstances attending this case impel me to speak plainly. The cause of Education in the Empire State, it would seem, is of too great importance to have placed on record a precedent, an appeal to which would be all that would be necessary for the removal of any teacher, even the best, if local jealousies and piques expressed by those who originate them are to furnish the sufficient ground for removal. I do not say that my professional career of twelve years has furnished a history which is above criticism. I make no assertion regarding the right or wrong of my case. The simple act of justice to which I claim that I am entitled is only that which the statute by interpretation gives to any public school teacher—the right to be heard before a proper tribunal—The spirit of the law is clearly set forth in (I 11.12) which reads as follows: "After a teacher has obtained a certificate, been employed, and entered upon his duties, he should not be discharged without the clearest proof of his incompetency or palpable neglect of duty, in default of which on the part of the trustees inferior courts should find for the teacher. The testimony of the pupils as to the teacher's fidelity is to be received with much caution, and occasional or trifling errors in recitation, or inaccuracies in scholarship, or casual laxity in discipline, or tardiness of action, or failure to secure the rapid advancement of particular scholars—these things, whether alleged or real, are inconsequential when weighed against the favorable presumption warranted by the possession of a legal certificate, and the evidence of general success and fidelity. 
   To the foregoing the reply will come that the teacher now in question is in a Normal School and not in the common schools to which the decision above quoted directly refers. But, is not a teacher in a Normal School entitled to the same protection in the interpretation of statute law as the common school teacher, even though the law possibly does not say in so many words—A Normal School teacher shall be entitled to a fair trial? It would seem to be the spirit of the law to deal justly with all teachers, those who happen to come under the rules of the Civil Service as well as others. It may be true that upon a strict interpretation of the law embodied in the Civil Service rules the appointing power can remove an appointee without cause, yet in the Educational Department it is somewhat disappointing to find no encouragement or protection afforded the teacher, and when at the same time the head of the department is supposed to be law in all matters, within his jurisdiction, not fixed by statute. When the law fails to protect, the teacher has a right to expect such protection from the head of the Department of Public Instruction. Should not then a teacher even in a Normal School have a right to be heard? To deny this simple act of justice to a teacher is to strike at the very foundation principles, not only of our educational system but of our very government itself. We boast of our free institutions, and take pride in the fact that all our citizens are free and equal before the law. Even the vilest criminal at the bar of justice is not only heard but is furnished with counsel learned in the law. Never since the trial of the Earl of Middlesex in the English Courts in 1624 has this principle been lost sight of. Is the teacher less worthy than the criminal at the bar? But you will say, there are no charges. Then instinctively and with justice comes the verdict—No cause for action.
   2. It is said that due notice had been given. If it is true that there is on record either by statute or by precedent anything which requires a supervising officer to sanction the removal of an appointee simply because of due notice given, then the most capable as well as the most inefficient can be supplanted without cause. There has been a presumption at least that our school laws were intended to prevent indiscriminate rotation in office, to strengthen the teacher's tenure, and to give to merit, success, and devotion to the cause, recognition and appropriate reward.
   Also it is said that unless it can be shown that the removal is simply to make a place for someone else, it is the duty of the Superintendent to approve, etc. It would seem that there might be other ways than the aforesaid in which the Board might seriously err. It would seem that a preconceived deliberately-planned, and beforehand-announced purpose to accomplish just what is now being done, would indicate maliciousness on the part of somebody, and that evidence of such a design on the part of any member or members of the board ought to be sufficient to warrant a thorough investigation. Evidence of such deliberately planned scheme is abundant.
   3. Again it is said that the fact that due notice had been given is sufficient evidence of that lack of harmony between the Board and the teacher which is necessary to the successful conduct of the school. The conclusion reached is no doubt correct, but harmony seems to involve a relation between two or more parties, in this case two, the Board and the teacher. If such lack of harmony exists, one or both must be at fault. Is the dignity and importance of the teacher's position sufficient to warrant an inquiry as to which party is at fault, or is the prestige of the Board such that the teacher must be ignored irrespective of right or wrong? It takes years of studious preparation to become a successful teacher. Is the same true of members of Local Boards? It would seem that good material for local boards is quite plenty, while good teachers are rare. The teacher comes to his work armed with a diploma or certificate granted by the state, such diploma or certificate representing, nominally at least, preparation, merit, and worth, while the only legal qualification for a member of a local board seems to be simply the fact of an appointment. If both local boards and teachers are not to be dealt with on equal terms, which should take precedence? If we are interested in the welfare of our children and of our nation, let us defend our teachers against unrighteous criticism and not discriminate against them merely upon the testimony of accusers and personal antagonists.
   The teacher who is a failure should go. If I am such, I should not be tolerated in the profession, for the cause of education which is the all-powerful agency in moulding the character of our children, lies too near our hearts and homes to be left in the hands of a teacher unfit for his calling either because of efficiency, immorality or any other thing which tends to defeat the true ends of an education. Think, for a moment, of the meaning which underlies the expression—lack of harmony between an under teacher and the Local Board. Such lack of harmony might be possible between a principal and a Board, who stand in certain specified relations to each other in the conduct of the school. But how this lack of harmony between an under teacher and the Board can exist when those do not come into relations with each other except through the principal is difficult to comprehend. In your letter to the principal of this school, bearing date of Oct. 2, 1888, you say—"This principal is charged with the management of the professional affairs of the school." Can it be explained how it is that with perfectly harmonious relations between the under teacher and the principal, and no member of the Board ever having visited one of said teacher's classes, lack of harmony is possible. I have never supposed it to be the duty of an under teacher to establish independent relations with the Board or its individual members except through the principal. I had been told, however, by two members of the present Local Board that I should come to the Board to consult in reference to school matters instead of to the principal, and especially in reference to the resolution pertaining to my resignation, was told "Do not under any consideration let Dr. Hoose know what is going on." I did communicate the facts to Dr. Hoose and also to Judge Duell, who was then president of the Board, but who was absent when the action was taken. Perhaps this act of mine has increased the strain on the relations. If so I do not regret it. I believe it to be for the best interests of the school system that the principal should be allowed a voice in the management of the affairs of the school and should be consulted upon such affairs and especially in reference to under teachers, and their work. The fact is that for more than a year the principal of this school has been practically ignored by the Local Board in nearly all of these essential points. In fact his expressed wishes have been again and again ignored by the teachers committee and by the Board. I have been loyal to my principal and through him to the Board and this loyalty is now turned against me and branded as lack of harmony. Such lack of harmony as that, if such it be, is what I shall strive for so long as I have anything to say in school matters.
   4. If the sentiment of the community, the Alumni and the pupils is not to be considered in the estimate of the teacher's success, I cannot, of course, appeal to the list of 1340 names sent to you in behalf of myself as well as of Dr. Hoose.
   5. Finally, either the Superintendent's opinion is based purely upon the high prerogative of the Local Board to remove after due notice, there being absolutely no charges except lack of harmony, which you must admit is just as liable to be a charge against the Board as against the teacher, or else there is, underlying, something to the teacher's discredit, either real or supposed which condemns the teacher unheard. If the latter, justice demands an investigation. My high estimate of your judgment and fairness in all school matters in the past and the interest you have taken in the advance of our Educational standards leads me to believe that, were you conversant with the facts of this case, you would not only give an opportunity for both sides to be heard but would also decide that the continued increasing prosperity of the Cortland School should not be checked by the ill-will, toward principal and teacher, of a few who have personal grievances as opposed to the vast majority of the community, the Alumni and pupils. Since I have had no opportunity of a hearing either before yourself or the Board, I trust I may be pardoned for mentioning a few of many points in this case, which would seem to warrant an investigation.
   1st.—No cause of dismissal has ever been given me by the Board.
   2nd.—My salary was increased by $100 just one year before, which itself would seem to indicate no lack of harmony.
   3rd.—The past year, of all the years of my teaching, has been characterized by the greatest good-will and respect of pupils, earnest, successful work and the absence of all friction or lack of harmony. In support of these facts the pupils and their work would be cited as evidence, if allowed.
   4th.—No member of the Board has ever visited one of my classes.
   5th.—A statement made in a board meeting held July 17, 1890, that, if they succeeded in getting me out, they would soon look after two or three other members of the faculty.
   6th.—A motion made in the aforesaid meeting to elect a teacher of History and Physical Culture, when as yet there was no vacancy in the department of History, that being my work.
   7th.—Misleading statements made to me concerning the action of the Board in my case, e. g. The chairman of teacher's committee on Feb. 20, '91, the week following the death of Judge Duell, President of the Board, summoned me to his office and requested me to state to him what I proposed to do about resigning. On this occasion he said: "I think you ought to know that this action of the Board was practically unanimous." The facts are that four members did not approve of the action.
   8th.—Members of the Board had given me to understand that the case might be dropped. One member of the Board said to me privately on Feb. 23, 1891, substantially as follows: When this matter was raised 1 was a new member of the Board and of course had to rely largely upon the opinion of the other members. I think that the Board was at least premature in this matter. It has now become somewhat public. I think that if we could have reached our present knowledge of this case before it had gained so much publicity, it could have been dropped, but this Board is a public body and it has put down its foot. Suppose it should take it back, what would people say? It would look bad. He then said that he did not, for the simple reason that it had been begun, propose to go on with it right or wrong, but that he could not tell what other members of the board might do. The impression left was that he would use his influence to have the matter dropped.
   9th.—I have never been notified of the action of the Board of July 1st in ordering my removal, except as a friend personally told me of what was done.
   10th.—The assurance given me by yourself last August that if the case were referred to you, there should be a careful investigation, and that justice should be done let it strike where it would.
   11th.—Your letters sent to Cortland during the week of June 8th, stating that all parties should have a chance to be heard.
   12th.—The resolution of the Board of July 17, 1890, says: "That the Board will accept his (Dr. Sornberger's) resignation at the close of the school year of 1890-91. If I understand the law, the school year expires July 25th. The action of the Board of July 1st was peremptory and uncalled for, and no notification has yet been given me of such action. By the first resolution I am entitled to the full school year.
   13th.—Almost unanimous popular sentiment sustaining the administration of the school.
   14th.—That the attack is wholly from the ranks of those who in the controversy often years ago were radically opposed to the administration of Dr. Hoose and his friends.
   15th.—That there is existing between several members of the Board certain business, political and politico-business relations which it would seem must stand in the way of independent, unbiased action. Since writing the above I have received from my attorney a statement from you from which I quote as follows: "My course in the matter has not been at all influenced by any allegations against the character of Dr. Sornberger as a man or a teacher. I have taken the view enunciated by the Court of Appeals in the case of Hoose vs. Gilmour '89, N. Y., that the immediate management of the school is with the Local Board, subject only to the approval of the State Superintendent. Assuming that the Board acts honestly, and in the exercise of sound discretion, and gives a teacher adequate and timely notice—I feel that I would be justified in withholding my approval."
   Allow me to say, and I believe I voice the sentiment of nearly all the teachers of the State of New York, that a verdict based upon the merits of the teacher would have been much more satisfactory, no matter whether in this case it might have been for or against. The great question of the security of the teacher's tenure is of much greater importance than the result of my case. I have no doubt that your decision is permissible under the statute referred to, indeed it is very plain that it is so, but it is plain also that, in his discretion, the Superintendent may either approve or disapprove any act of the Board. The disappointment and astonishment of the teachers of the state who have been earnestly working with you to improve the status of the teacher and to advance the standard of Education, will arise from the fact that this case is surrounded with a network of local influence growing out of the controversy of long ago, that the school was never more prosperous, that the sentiment of patrons, pupils, and alumni is nearly a unit with the teacher, that the Superintendent says that his decision is not influenced by any allegations against the teacher without a hearing.
   It had been supposed that the Superintendent constituted a Court of Appeal for the teacher in case of arbitrary or unjust action of boards of trustees. But instead, if I am wholly wrong in my estimate of the situation, in the face of a protest by 1,840 citizens and alumni, and also of the teacher, whose character and position are at stake, and without a hearing, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, as his own letter, of July 9, '91, says, assumes that "the Board acts honestly and with sound discretion," and upon that assumption decides against the teacher. Does not this action involve a very serious question pertaining to the tenure of the Teachers of the State?
   I take this way of stating to you some of the points which I might have made had a hearing been accorded me. I do this because of a desire that not only yourself, but my colleagues in the profession may know something of the bearings of this case as seen from the teacher's point of observation. I have endeavored to state the case fairly and honestly with no intent to criticise any farther than it has seemed to me the interests of the teaching profession required.
   I may also say here that it was because of no stubbornness or insubordination on my part that I deliberately took the firm stand which I did against the unexplained action of the Board. I chose this stand because I was in the right and because it involved a principle vital to the interests of the teaching profession, and because of confidence in the assurance of the Superintendent of fairness exercised through investigation, and the decisions of the Superintendent heretofore rendered, with few if any exceptions favoring the teacher where the statute could be construed. I do not regret the stand I have taken and only hope it may arouse those who believe in our school system, to activity in defence of the rights of the teacher.
   Yours with respect,

   Grip’s Historical Souvenir of Cortland, 1899: Samuel J. Sornberger, M. D., was born at Harpersville, Broome Co., N. Y., Aug. 15, 1849. His elementary education was obtained at Blakslee academy, Harpersville, N. Y. In September, 1871, he entered the Normal school at Cortland, N. Y., and was graduated from the classical course in June, 1874, being honored with the appointment as one of the commencement speakers. In the fall of the same year he entered Syracuse university, and in 1878 was graduated with the degree of Ph. B., being also honored with an appointment as commencement orator. After one year of practical literary and educational work he was awarded the degree of Ph. M. from the same institution and two years later the degree of Ph. D. upon examination in a two years' post-graduate course of study pursued privately. In the fall of 1878 the chair of English, Physics, History and Latin in the State Normal school at Cortland was tendered him unsought. This position he accepted and filled with acceptance for twelve years.
   In 1880 the doctor was married to Miss Kate M. Foster of Burnt Hills, Saratoga Co., N. Y. Miss Foster was a graduate of Syracuse University in the class of '78. Frank, their son, is now a student of the Normal. In 1894 the doctor was graduated with honors from a full four years' course at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Chicago, Ill., now the medical department of the State University of Illinois, and. followed dispensary and hospital practice in Chicago, from April to September of the same year. In September, 1894, he was licensed by the Board of Regents, under the new law, to practice in the state of New York. In November following he opened an office in the Democrat building, Cortland, N. Y., where he is now located. He is a member of the Cortland County Medical society, and also of the surgical staff of the Cortland hospital.

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