KANT IN THE CLASSROOM     Materials to aid the study of Kant’s lectures

Kant’s Writings
Academy Edition
Kant’s Life

> Universities


> Governance and Organization
Kant as Dean, Senator, & Rector
List: Brief Descriptions of German Universities
List: Universities founded before 1815
Table: Average Enrollments [Graphs]
Table: Full Professors

Kant’s Lectures
The Student Notes

Governance and Organization at the Albertina

“The faculties are traditionally divided into two ranks: three higher faculties and one lower faculty. It is clear that this division is made and this terminology adopted with reference to the government rather than the learned professions; for a faculty is considered higher only if its teachings — both as to their content and the way they are expounded to the public — interest the government itself, while the faculty whose function is only to look after the interests of science is called lower....”

— Kant, The Conflict of the Faculties [AA 7:18-19]

1. Faculty Structure and Governance: [Rector] [Chancellor] [Faculty Deans] [Academic Senate]
2. Control by Local and Regional Authorities

The organization of universities and faculty governance varied among universities and changed over time, but the general pattern was that a rector, drawn from the Academic Senate (a subset of the full professors), presided over the affairs of the university, with both executive and judiciary duties. This rector was occasionally referred to as a “pro-rector” since, in theory, the true rector was the patron and political ruler of the land (the local Landgraf, Herzog, Prince, King, etc.); but regardless of title, it was a full professor who looked after the daily affairs of the university.[1]

[1] Much of the following comes from Goldbeck [1782, 43-56] and Euler [1994]; see also Waclawik [1999].

Rector [top]

The rector might be appointed for life,[1] or a semester, or he might be openly elected by all members of the university (students and teachers alike), or these open elections might be constrained by the requirement that the rectorate rotate among the Nations or Faculties, or there might be no election at all, with the rectorate rotating among the full professors (as eventually became the case in the Prussian universities).

In Königsberg the rectorate rotated among the members of the Academic Senate (the senior members of each faculty), with a senator from the philosophy faculty holding the rectorate during the summer semesters of even numbered years, followed by a senator from law, then theology, and then medicine, before returning to philosophy two years later. Because the three higher faculties had two senators each, while the philosophy faculty had four, the senators from the philosophy faculty would serve as rector only once every eight years, while the other senators would serve every four, although there were many exceptions to this (such as Kant: see Kant as Dean, Senator, and Rector). This pattern is easily seen in the table of Deans and Rectors.

Because of the important political and financial support of the nobility in the early centuries of universities, it was not uncommon to draw from them for certain governing positions, if only honorifically, and so we occasionally find a fourteen year-old noble serving as rector. The crown prince Friedrich Wilhelm assumed the rectorship at Königsberg in 1701, for example, retaining it until 1713 when he assumed the throne. During this time, the Rektorwahl was in fact a Prorektorwahl [Goldbeck 1782, 50; Eulenburg 1904, 67]. It was common among the Prussian universities for the rectorate to rotate once each year, although Königsberg always held to a semester rotation [Bornhak 1900, 64-65].

The duties of the rector included convening meetings of the academic senate, matriculating new students into the university, and administering justice [Bornhak 1900, 9]. Apart from the various monetary compensations attached to the office, one also enjoyed the title of Magnificus [Goldbeck 1782, 45].

[1] This was the case with Sabinus at the founding of the Albertina in Königsberg, although this lasted only six semesters — through SS 1547 — after which Sabinus rotated the office with other professors.

Chancellor [top]

Reinhold Friedrich von Sahme (1682-1753) [bio] was appointed the first chancellor of the Albertina in 1744 as part of the 200th anniversary of the university. The chancellor stood under the rector as second in command within the university governance, and the office was originally to serve as the Prussian government’s local overseer, a function that had lapsed by the time Kant was a professor. This office was always filled by the senior law professor, and was held for life [Goldbeck 1782, 50-51]. After Sahme died, the office was filled by Coelestin Kowalewski [bio] (from 1752-71), J. L. von L’Estocq [bio] (from 1771-79), W. B. Jester [bio] (from 1779-85), G. F. Holtzhauer [bio] (from 1796-1801), T. A. H. Schmalz [bio] (1801-3), and Daniel Reidenitz [bio] (1803-1842?).

Faculty deans [top]

Each faculty also had its own dean, whose duties included enrolling students into the faculty, participation in the graduation ceremonies (for instance, J. B. Hahn, as dean of philosophy, gave a speech at Kant’s graduation as Magister) and public disputations in that faculty, which they were required to attend and to serve as informal referees, cooling any arguments that grew too heated. The dean also served as censor for any material to be presented at a disputation, and professors failing to submit their materials for censoring were fined four gulden [Arnoldt 1746, i.207-9].[1] The dean of philosophy had certain additional duties, such as administering the entrance exam to all new matriculants to the university — this would be anywhere from 60 to 100 new students each semester — and serving as censor for the local papers.[2]

[1] Censoring fees were born by the author and figured by the sheet; Goldbeck offers one example of a poem that cost one-and-one-half rthl. to censor [1782, 79].

[2] Kant’s letter of 15 October 1791 to S. G. Wald mentions an honorarium for this service as censor — 20 fl. from Kanter, although it isn’t clear whether this is a total, or what he has received so far [AA 11:298-99, # 491]. Kant had just completed a term as dean (SS 1791), and Wald had been dean just prior to that.

Academic senate [top]

The academic senate (concilium academicum) consisted of a subset of the full professors (based on seniority) and was the governing body of the university. The senate typically served in a legislative capacity, as well as deciding on student requests for stipendia, and occasionally participating in judicial affairs with the rector, who presided over its meetings and carried out its bidding. In Königsberg, the senate consisted of ten full professors: the two senior professors from each of the higher faculties (theology, law, and medicine) and the four senior professors from philosophy.[1] It also included the current dean of the philosophy faculty, and so consisted of eleven members during those semesters when a junior philosophy professor was serving as dean (Kant, for instance, served on the senate two different semesters before becoming a permanent member). The philosophy dean also served in an important administrative capacity alongside the rector, and appears from the university records that he was responsible for preparing many of the senate documents such as the lists of completed courses that were then sent to the Budget Ministry in Königsberg as well as to Berlin. A senator served as the treasurer (holding one of the two keys needed to open the safebox, the rector holding the other), and another as the assessor, whose function was the distribution of student stipends provided by the government.[2]

Senators traditionally retained their office until death, even when illness prevented full participation (this became a contentious issue during Kant's retirement). The senate met every Wednesday at 9 or 10 AM in the senate room (Senatsstube), where faculty meetings were also held, a room next to the university archives and across from the large university lecture hall (the auditorio maximo)[Goldbeck 1782, 52; Euler 1994].[3]

The four deans, as well as the rector, rotated each semester, the former rotating among all the full professors of that faculty, the latter among the members of the senate, as described above. The outgoing rector always served the following semester as the prorector, whose duty was to stand in for the rector should he be unable to serve; this also helped, no doubt, with a smoother running of the institution.  The rotation among the deans and rectors was very nearly algorithmic, and although the installation of the new rector was called the “election of the rector” (Rektorwahl) there was nothing in the way of electing or choosing going on. Whoever’s turn it was to serve became the new rector; likewise with the dean of each faculty.[4] This was a highly festive occasion that marked the beginning of each new semester, and served as the public act of receiving the new rector by the academic senate and wider community. It took place “on the Sunday after Easter for the summer semester, and on the next Sunday after the Feast of St. Michael [September 29] for the winter semester.”[5] The actual Rektorwahl occurred in the senate room, and then was announced in the Auditorio maximo to the assembled crowd. The outgoing rector would give a speech, then the academic secretary would administer an oath to the incoming rector and hang the official purple cloak on his shoulders. He would receive the congratulations of the audience, usually saying a few words himself. The new dean of the philosophy faculty would be announced, and the whole assembly would proceed to the adjacent cathedral that served as the university church.[6] Reusch recalls that “back then after the ceremony inaugurating a new rector, the professors, arranged by faculty, would proceed into the cathedral for a worship service. It was Kant’s custom, if he was not actually rector himself, to step aside at the door of the church” [Reusch 1848, 5; repr. in Malter 1990, 311-12].

[1] Seniority was determined by the date of one’s pro loco disputation (that is, neither by age, nor by years lecturing, but rather by years as a professor).

[2] All of these offices brought various benefits to the individuals holding them. See Salaries and Benefits. Apart from the professors serving in their various administrative capacities, a few other offices were filled by non-academics. A senate secretary administered the oaths to all candidates for graduation, among other things, and was paid 40 rthl. Accisevergütung per year and one Last of rye (about 2000 kg.), as well as one-sixth Achtel (one-half cord) of firewood [Goldbeck 1782, 55-56]. Two students were hired as pedellen [glossary] to assist the rector and senators in their duties.

[3] According to the Adres-Calender for 1784, the Senate met each Wednesday morning at 9 (p. 92). The senate occasionally met at other times, as when Hamann reported (in a letter to F. H. Jacobi dated 28 September 1785) that Kant was in the Senate the previous Monday (the relevant passage is reprinted at Malter 1990, 268). Likewise, a letter from Kant to the university (dated 21 September 1786, thus near the end of his first term as university rector, and during the recess before winter semester) suggests several meetings for the following Monday (letter printed at Stark 1993, 226). Waclawik [1999, 86] notes that 9 AM was the standard time, but that after 1795 it was 10 AM. A photo of the senate room is included in Hubatsch [1966, 32].

[4] This order was interrupted only rarely. Klemme reports that in WS 1740/41, in anticipation of the coronation of Friedrich II, the Senate chose to have Johann Jakob Quandt (1686-1772) serve as rector from the theology faculty, instead of Franz Albrecht Schultz (1692-1763), whose turn it was. Schultz was given the rectorship two years later, when it came back around to theology [1994, 24n].

[5] From the university statutes, as reported in Arnoldt [1746, ii.88].

[6] Kant’s “On Philosophers’ Medicine of the Body” [writings] was a speech at such an occasion. Adickes believes Kant delivered it as an outgoing rector on October 5, 1788. Hubatsch [1966, 14-15] reproduces engravings from 1844 of university ceremonies in both the auditorio maximo and the church, although the buildings had undergone extensive remodeling prior to the 1844 tercentennial celebrations.

Control by Local and Regional Authorities [top]

At their founding, universities were granted various legal rights by the local secular and ecclesiastical authorities, usually acquiring full judicial powers over their members, including the right to punish. This also freed the academic citizens from certain obligations imposed upon the normal citizenry, such as various levies and taxations, and the quartering of troops. For students, a great advantage was being freed from military service. Among other legal rights, the university at Königsberg inherited all the property of any of its citizens who died with neither heirs nor a will (thus adding significantly to the library holdings). It also held the right of censorship over all literature printed in the city [Goldbeck 1782, 5-6].

But universities were far from being sovereign entities, and the Albertina was answerable to the King and his ministers in Berlin, as well as to Berlin’s representatives in Königsberg, the so-called Etats-Ministerium or Budget Ministry, whose offices were in the north wing of the castle [Benninghoven 1974, 71].[1] The Prussian government in Berlin took the form of the Cultural Minister of Church and Educational Affairs (the Oberkuratorium [glossary]) and was often a distant force easy to ignore — less so the local Budget Ministry in Königsberg, and the full-force of the Berlin authority could still make itself felt, as in the teaching bans on Wolff at Halle (1723) and Fischer at Königsberg (1725); the banning of all Wolffian textbooks in all four of the Prussian universities, and the banning of Crusius’s textbooks in Königsberg in 1775, singling out two professors in particular. 

Berlin also controlled the hiring and dismissal of professors, both associate and full, usually consulting and accepting nominations from the academic senate, but often ignoring these as well. Paulsen writes that “at no other time was government interference into university affairs so great, and resistance to this so small, than in this age of enlightened despotism” [1921, ii.127].[2]

[1] The entire East Prussian government in Königsberg consisted of the four budget ministers, two secretaries, an archivist, four chancellors (Kanzlisten) and four copyists, two servants (Aufwärtern) and three messengers (Boten) — twenty people in all.

[2] Clark reports that, even at the close of the 18th century, no German-speaking university held the legal right to make its appointments [1986, 367-73]. On the attempts by students to influence professorial appointments, see Bornhak [1900, 87-88].

Copyright ©2006 Steve Naragon (Manchester University)
Last modified: 13 Mar 2015.
Please send comments and questions to: ssnaragon@manchester.edu