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  • Weihnachten im Foyer der Neuen Uni am Sanderring. Bild: Robert Emmerich
University Archives

The Rectors in the Turbulent 19th Century

Curatel, Prorector and Academic Senate

Part 4 of 7

While the Senate and the Rectorate represented the apex of academic self-government in pre-Bavarian times, they were demoted to executive bodies at the beginning of Bavarian rule. The university lost its corporate freedoms.


With the end of the prince-bishop period and the transfer of Würzburg to the Electorate of Bavaria in 1805, there was a massive cut in the corporate self-government rights and freedom of the university. The university was now under "curatel" and an authority of the same name was interposed between the ministry and the university. The curatorship as an intermediate body was endowed with far-reaching and vaguely formulated rights. This demoted the Senate to a mere advisory body and downgraded the former rector, now demonstratively called prorector, from the representative of an independent corporation to a mere intermediary between the state and the university. Even the elections to the Senate and the Rectorate were controlled by a central body. Thus, in the early years, the first curator Thürheim directly appointed the members of the Senate and Rectorate himself, referring to the lack of consolidation of the new order. The corporation largely lost its privileges and special rights.

Würzburg falls to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany - the university becomes foreign-controlled

In 1805, the territories of the Untermainkreis came under the control of the former Grand Duke of Tuscany. Once again, the government intervened directly in the university structure without regard for corporate rights. The university became even more closely tied to the grand ducal government. The curatorship, which continued to exist, lost its independent decision-making power and was only to act strictly according to instructions. The Senate, already limited to an advisory role to the curatorship, was renewed annually by the corporation, but its submissions often went unanswered by the government. Therefore, before its dissolution in the 1809 Act of Organization, the Senate proceeded to submit solely a list of unanswered petitions, complaints, and advisory opinions. Even the general assembly of the college, convened annually after the dissolution of the senate and chaired by the prorector, was not given any independent room for maneuver. The university was only to make its expertise available here; it was not granted the right to have a say or to make proposals. Although the prorectorate formally continued to chair the university, it was merely an empty legal title due to a lack of authority. During the grand-ducal period, the prorector's duties were limited to enrollment and chairing the professors' council.

Long official channels for every request from university ranks

In 1814, Würzburg finally fell to the Kingdom of Bavaria. The scope of the curatorship under Curator von Stauffenberg remained severely limited. The subordination of the curatorship to the royal court commission meant that requests from the university first had to go through two state institutions before they got through to the Bavarian government.

The great influence of the curator and court commissioner caused a further erosion of corporate rights. This can be exemplified by the university elections of 1816, when the commissioner and curator opposed Professor Kleinschrod, who had been elected as prorector for the ninth time, and instead secured the appointment of Professor Döllinger for the following year.

A comprehensive reorganization of the prorectorate and reinstatement of the senate

The year 1817 brought comprehensive change for the university administration. On March 26, 1817, the Court Commission was dissolved and the curatorship was placed under the control of the government of the Lower Main District, whose president was to provide the first curator in the future. In this situation, on May 9, 1817, (Pro)rector Döllinger ventured a push for a comprehensive reorganization of the Prorectorate and the Senate. Under the direction of the curatorship, the senate was to take over the supervision of studies and attributes, be given the right to make proposals in the appointment of new professors, and be able to pass new academic laws. The royal decree of June 16, 1817, granted this reinstatement of the academic senate as well as, to a large extent, the rights of proposal and administrative powers demanded by Döllinger. The Prorectorate, which had hitherto had primarily representative duties, was now to serve as the executive body of the Senate. From 1833, the rector was directly accountable to the senate.

Supervision by the new ministerial commissioner

The Carlsbad resolutions of 20.9.1819 created another instance of university supervision: the extraordinary ministerial commissioner. On February 13, 1828, the curatorship was finally abolished. The extensive competences of the Ministerial Commission were not affected. The control and supervision of studies, students and professors became a great burden for all university members, which could well prove to be a threat to their existence. The rights of self-government were uncompromisingly ignored. The commission was not able to achieve its real goal, the depoliticization of the university and its members as well as the education of loyal public servants, against the general developments throughout Germany. As a result of the political events of the revolutionary year 1848, King Maximilian II dissolved the Ministerial Commission in October, transferring its powers to the county government and the Ministry of the Interior. As a result, the university also regained some of its former rights and was once again able to elect its own rector.