The Founding of Moscow University
Moscow State University may by rights be regarded as Russia's oldest university. It was established in 1755. The foundation of a university in Moscow became possible due to the efforts of Mikhail Vasilíevich Lomonosov (1711-1765), the eminent Russian scholar and scientist, a person of encyclopaedic learning. In 1940 on the occasion of its185th Anniversary, Moscow University was re-named after M.V. Lomonosov.
Alexander Pushkin was quite right when he wrote about the giant of 18th century world science: "Combining the formidable will-power and the formidable strength of perception, Lomonosov embraced all the branches of learning. A thirst for a deeper appreciation of things proved an overwhelming passion with that impassioned spirit. A historian, rhetorician, mechanic, chemist, mineralogist, artist and poet, he had experienced it all and perceived it all ...". M.Lomonosovís work mirrored all the strength, beauty and vitality of Russian science that was pushing back the frontiers of contemporary knowledge, the achievements of the country which was able, ensuing Peter the Greatís reform, to narrow the gap between Russia and the foremost nations of the world, and catch up with them. Mikhail Lomonosov attached great importance to the creation of a system of higher education in Russia. Back in 1724, the Saint Petersburg Academy of Sciences, founded by Peter the Great, had instituted a university and a grammar school to instruct the future scholars and scientists of Russia. However, neither the university nor the grammar school proved up to the mark. And it is for this reason that Lomonosov had on many occasions brought up the idea of opening a university in Moscow. His suggestions--spelled out in a letter to I.I. Shuvalov--laid the groundwork for the blueprint of Moscow University. Shuvalov, a favourite of the Empress Elizaveta Petrovna, encouraged the advancement of Russian science and culture and supported many of Lomonosovís enterprises.
Upon acquainting herself with Shuvalov's proposed project for the new school of learning, Elizaveta Petrovna signed a decree declaring the foundation of Moscow University on January 12, 1755 (January 23, New Style)--St. Tatyana's Day, celebrated according to the church calendar. The solemn ceremony upon the inauguration of Moscow University took place on the very same day as the coronation anniversary of Elizaveta Petrovna was being celebrated, April 26, 1755 (May 7, New Style). Since that time, these occasions have traditionally been celebrated at Moscow University through student festivities, and the traditional Lomonosov Readings are scheduled to coincide with them.
To conform to Lomonosovís scheme, Moscow University opened three faculties, those of philosophy, law and medicine. The students would begin their course in the faculty of philosophy where they received a solid education in natural sciences and the humanities. They could then go on to specialize in law, medicine or further their course in the faculty of philosophy. Unlike the universities in the West, Moscow University did not include a faculty of theology, a fact which accounts for the existence in Russia of a special system of education for the Russian clergy. The professors would deliver their lectures not only in Latin, the then generally recognized language of science, but in Russian as well.
Moscow University was widely noted for its students and the teaching staff, democratic in their composition and views. To a large extent it was exactly this fact that accounted for the University's popularity among undergraduates, it's teachers and tutors of progressive scientific and social ideas. In the preamble to the Decree for the foundation of the University in Moscow, it was stated that it the University be established "for the general education of members of the raznochinets [those who were not of gentle birth]". The University enrolled students of varied backgrounds, the only exception being for those of serf linneage. Mikhail Lomonosov set as an example the Western universities that had rid themselves of the estate prejudice. "At the University that student is more honoured who has learned more; but whose scion he is does nott matter". During the latter part of the 18th century, out of the 26 Russian professors who taught in Moscow University, only three were the noble birth. Members of the raznochinets estate comprised in the 18th century more than a half of the student population. The most gifted students were sent abroad to further their education in universities, thus were strengthened the University's contacts and links with world science.
State allocations would not cover all the expenses of Moscow University, the more so that originally the students did not pay tuition fees and later (when tuition fees were implemented) low-income students were exempted from them. The administration of the University had to cast out wide to raise the necessary funds, and the enterprising University even went so far as to engage in commercial activities. Great help was rendered by such patrons of the arts as the Demidovs, the Stroganovs, E.P.Dashkova and others. They would acquire and donate to the University research equipment, collections of books and artifacts, establish scholarships for the students. The graduates would not leave their alma mater in the lurch either. On many occasions, when the University was having difficulties, they simply raised money by subscription. According to the established tradition, the professors bequeathed their private collections to the University library. Among them were the most precious collections of I.M. Snegiryov, P.Ya. Petrov, T.N. Granovsky, S.M. Solovyov, F.I. Buslaev, N.K. Gudzi, I.G. Petrovsky and others.
Moscow University played an outstanding role in spreading and popularizing scientific and scholarly knowledge. Members of the general public were allowed to attend lectures delivered by Moscow University professors and were often present while the students were debating different issues. In April, 1756 a printing facility and a book-shop opened on the premises of Moscow University on Mokhovaya Street. Thus began the development of book publishing in Russia. It was at this time that the University launched the city's first civic periodical publication, then known as Moskovskiye Vedomosti (Moscow Gazette), and in January, 1760 they began the magazine Poleznoye Razvlecheniye (Useful Entertainment). For ten years, from 1779 to 1789, the print shop was headed by the graduate of the University grammar school, a prominent Russian representative of the Enlightenment, N.I.Novikov.
A year after the inception of the University, the library opened its doors. For over a hundred years it remained the only public library in Moscow.
The work of Moscow University as avehicle for the enlightenment of the public helped to establish on its basis and with the participation of professors and tutors such major centres of Russian culture as the Kazan Grammar School (from 1804 - Kazan University), the Academy of the Fine Arts in Saint Petersburg (until 1764 it was affiliated to Moscow University), the Malii Theatre and others.
In the 19th century, early scientific societies came into being: societies of nature explorers, societies of Russian history and antiquity, lovers of Russian literature.
In the 18th century, within the walls of Moscow University studied and taught such remarkable figures of Russian science and culture as philosophers N.N. Popovsky, D.S. Anichkov; mathematicians V.K. Arshenevsky, M.I. Pankevich; physician S.G. Zybelin; botanist P.D. Veniaminov; physicist P.I. Strakhov; soil scientists M.I. Afonin, N.E. Cherepanov; historian and geographer Kh.A. Chebotarev; historian N.N. Bantysh-Kamensky; philologists and translators A.A. Barsov, S. Khalífin, E.I. Kostrov; lawyers S.E. Desnitsky, I.A. Tretíyakov; publishers and writers D.I. Fonvizin, M.M. Kheraskov, N.I. Novikov; architects V.I. Bazhenov and I.E. Starov.
As Moscow University combined in its work issues related to education, science and culture, it became, to quote A.I.Hertzen, "the heart of Russian education", a centre of world culture.
Until 1804 the activities of Moscow University were governed by the Imperial Decree on the Establishment of Moscow University. In 1804, with the approval of the Charter the University gained a great deal of independence. The Rector and deans were to be chosen from among the ranks of the professors. They elected as the first Rector Kh.A. Chebotarev, a professor of history and philology. The Council of Professors condiucted all of the business relevant to University life, awarded degrees. Books printed with the approval of the Council in the local print shop became exempt from statutory censorship. The students attended four faculties (known then as departments): moral and political sciences, physical and mathematical sciences, medical sciences and philology. The course lasted for three years. After the final examinations, the best graduates were awarded a candidate's degree, the others acquired the rank of "valid student". Continuity between the different levels of education was gaining ground. Under the 1804 Charter, the University was granted the authority to supervise all primary and secondary schools in the provinces of central Russia.