“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]
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.
The rector might be appointed for life, or for 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].
Of the ceremony in Königsberg of changing the rector at the beginning of each semester, we find a brief account in the travel diary of Karl Morgenstern [bio], who was on his way from Danzig to Dorpat, to assume a professorship at the newly established university there. He had arrived in Königsberg on Friday, 1 October 1802, and two days later on Sunday he attended this ceremony [Stieda 1916, 548]:
Sunday, Oct. 3, Rector Hamann came to pick me up already at 8 o'clock. I went with him to the Castle Church, where the change of prorector was to take place that day. The First Court Preacher Schulz [bio] and the Court Preacher Schulz [bio] met us just as we were about to enter the church. Hamann introduced us and they welcomed me with much goodwill, leading me with them into the meeting room of the Academic Senate, which is in the church building. Here I found most of the professors: Prof. Kraus,[bio] Consistory Councilor Hasse,[bio] Chancellor Schmalz,[bio] Dr. Wald,[bio] and others. Kraus and Hasse said that I should stay in Königsberg and take Mangelsdorff’s [bio] position; Zöllner [bio] had also discussed this when he was there with Minister Massow. I replied that my library was already swimming to Riga, and that I had given Dorpat my word. If I had known about Mangelsdorff’s death earlier and could have been certain of similar promises, I might have preferred the closer university. I walked with the professors in procession into the academic lecture hall and sat between Dr. Gräf [bio] and Consistory Councilor Hasse. The Court Preacher Schulz resigned the prorectorate with a very good Latin speech on (if I remember correctly) the history of astronomy, and First Court Preacher Schulz took it over. (On the way back, I had a few words with the son of Court Preacher Schulz, who studies philology).
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].
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?).
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, 1: 207-9]. 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.
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. 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.
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].
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. 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. 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. 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].
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]. 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, 2: 127].