May 2016 saw the circulation of an image purportedly reproducing a rejection letter Albert Einstein received from the University of Bern in 1907, one that denied him a position as an associate professor and informed him that his doctoral application had not been deemed acceptable. The irony of that turn-down was amplified by the letter’s criticism of Einstein’s now-famous theory of special relativity as “radical” and “more artistic than actual physics”:
Although Einstein’s initial application for a doctorate at the University of Bern (he had previously been awarded a PhD by the University of Zürich in 1905) was indeed rejected as insufficient in 1907, and it was not until the following year that he completed a new dissertation that resulted in his being awarded a doctorate by the University of Bern and given a position as a lecturer at that school, this image depicts a modern creation and not an actual letter sent to Einstein in 1907.
For starters, the letter exhibits a glaringly erroneous choice of language. The University of Bern, a school located in a country (Switzerland) where the predominant language was German, would not have sent the German-speaking Einstein, who published his academic work in German, a letter written in English. (Even today, Switzerland boasts four official languages, none of them English.)
As well, the letterhead seen in this image is anachronistic, as it bears the address of what is now the Albert Einstein Center for Fundamental Physics on Sidlerstrasse and references the modern postal code for Bern (3012). But a letter written in 1907 wouldn’t use that form of address, as Sidlerstrasse was named Sternwartsstrasse prior to 1931, and Switzerland didn’t adopt their four-digit postal code system until the 1960’s.
Also, there never was a dean (or professor) named Wilhelm Heinrich at the University of Bern, the circular stamp seen at the bottom of the letter has no connection to the University whatsoever (it appears to show the coat of arms of Hungary), and there would be no “Dean of Science” at the school in 1907 the Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Humanities had not yet been separated.
Although this image may reflect (at least in part) the essence of a communication Einstein once received from the University of Bern, what is actually pictured here is a modern fabrication, possibly an item used as a prop or offered for sale at a souvenir shop. Curiously, the full version of the image also includes an apparently fabricated reproduction of a U.S. postage stamp featuring Einstein (whose visage actually appeared on an eight-cent stamp issued in 1966, not a 25-cent stamp):