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History of FAU

A look at more than 270 years of University history

1743 – The University is founded by Margrave Friedrich of Brandenburg-Bayreuth

Margrave Friedrich of Brandenburg-Bayreuth

Margrave Friedrich of Brandenburg-Bayreuth (Image: FAU/University Archive)

The University in Erlangen was established in the spirit of enlightened absolutism. The function of German universities in the eighteenth century was to serve the needs of the many principalities by making provisions for the education and training of civil servants to enhance the reputation of the princes.

This was also the prime source of motivation for Margrave Friedrich of Brandenburg-Bayreuth who founded the Friedrichs-Universität in his principality in 1743 with the aid of Margravess Wilhelmine and the first chancellor of the University, Daniel de Superville.

It was the third university to be established in Franconia, after the universities of Altdorf and Würzburg, and was based in the imperial city of Erlangen in the former knight’s academy located on Hauptstraße. The official opening of the University took place on 4 November 1743, an event which is still commemorated every year at the dies academicus.

1769 – The University is expanded by Margrave Alexander

Opening of the University

Opening of the University (Image: FAU/University Archive)

In its early days, the University in Erlangen was one of the smallest institutions of its kind. A total of 64 students were enrolled at the new University in the year of its foundation and were taught by 16 professors; the average number of students remained at around 200 for some time.

The first few decades of the University’s existence were marked by economic problems since the margraviate of Brandenburg-Bayreuth was relatively small and not especially wealthy. It was not until 1769, when the Bayreuth line died out and the margraviate of Brandenburg-Bayreuth was united with that of Brandenburg-Ansbach, that Friedrichs-Universität was given a more solid financial basis. In honour of Margrave Alexander, the new ruler, who was also to become the University’s first great patron, the University was renamed Friedrich-Alexander-Universität in the same year.

The traditional range of disciplines was taught within the faculties of Theology, Law, Medicine and Philosophy. Apart from the Hohenzollern palace which, as home to the dowager, only played a marginal public role, the small margravial city of Erlangen had no important political, economic or cultural institutions, and the University’s professors now acquired considerable status within the city’s society.

1810 – Franconia becomes part of Bavaria

Huguenot fountain and Schloss (image: Dr. Clemens Wachter)

Huguenot fountain and Schloss (Image: Dr. Clemens Wachter)

Fifty years after its foundation, the University underwent major change as a result of political upheaval. The transfer of power to the Prussian crown in 1792, to the French empire in 1806 and finally to the Bavarian crown in 1810 transformed the margravial University into a state-run institution. While this meant that it lost much of its autonomy, such as its own jurisdiction and the special privileges granted to the university citizen, it also improved the University’s finances.

The number of students had risen and remained steady at around 400 at this time. The plans to centralise university education at the University of Landshut, laid down by the Bavarian Minister of State, Maximilian Joseph von Montgelas, meant that at the beginning of the eighteenth century the future of the University was jeopardised on more than one occasion. It owed its survival ultimately to the fact that it had the only faculty of protestant theology in Bavaria. Had this not continued to exist, all the Bavarian students of protestant theology, whose numbers had grown significantly as a result of Franconia’s recent integration into Bavaria, would have been forced to study outside Bavaria.

1818 – The Schloss is officially donated to the University

Schloss entrance (image: Dr. Clemens Wachter)

Schloss entrance (Image: Dr. Clemens Wachter)

In 1818, the University acquired a significant number of new buildings. After the death of Sophie Caroline, the second wife of the founder of the University, who had resided in Erlangen as his dowager since 1764, King Maximilian I Joseph of Bavaria donated the Schloss, the Schlossgarten, the orangery and other buildings previously owned by the margraves to the University.

The first half of the nineteenth century also saw Wilhelm von Humboldt’s major reform of the concept of university education, in which he advocated the combination of research and teaching. Lectures which had previously concentrated on a strictly exegetic approach to standard works now focused on the methodology of academic study and guidance towards independent research.

1824 – Universitätsklinikum Erlangen is founded

The construction of Universitätsklinikum Erlangen, the hospital in the eastern part of the Schlossgarten, was the first major building project undertaken by the University and was completed in 1824. The rapid development towards growing differentiation between the subjects, and the new research areas in medicine and the sciences in the second half of the nineteenth century necessitated the construction of numerous new buildings around the Schlossgarten and along Universitätsstraße, which came to form the core of the University. The most striking buildings from this period are the Kollegienhaus (1889), the anatomy and pathology buildings (1897 and 1906) and the University Library (1913).

1890 – The University has an average of one thousand students

The expansion in size went hand in hand with the creation of numerous new departments with institutes within them which, as distinct from the departments, not only taught academic disciplines but also conducted independent research. Student numbers also increased markedly in the second half of the nineteenth century. In the summer semester 1890, the number of students enrolled topped the 1000 mark for the first time,

meaning that the University ranked number 15 among the 21 universities in the German Empire in terms of size. This development also radically changed the relationship between the University and the city. Whereas Erlangen’s image in the eighteenth century had been determined by the Huguenot trades and crafts, in the nineteenth century the University began to play an increasingly significant role.

Among the most famous professors who taught at the University were the theologian Adolf von Harleß, the lawyer Christian von Glück, the professor of medicine Franz Penzoldt, the historian Karl Hegel, the philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, the professor of German Benno von Wiese, the professor of oriental studies and poet Friedrich Rückert, the mathematician Max Noether, the physicist Eilhard Wiedemann, the chemists Emil and Otto Fischer, the botanist Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber, the pharmacists Theodor and Ernst Martius, the zoologist Enoch Zander, and the geologist Bruno von Freyberg.

Some of Erlangen’s famous students include the theologist Wilhelm Löhe, the lawyer and Prussian statesman Karl Freiherr von Stein zum Altenstein, the doctor Samuel Hahnemann, the writers Heinrich Wackenroder, Ludwig Tieck, Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart and August Graf von Platen, the chemist Justus von Liebig, the physicist Georg Simon Ohm and the mathematician Emmi Noether.

1920 – The Pro-rector becomes the Rector

Schlosskirche entrance (image: Dr. Clemens Wachter)

Schlosskirche entrance (Image: Dr. Clemens Wachter)

The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 had a considerable effect on the University. On the very first day of mobilisation, the Kollegienhaus , the Schloss and several departments at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen were converted into hospitals for the wounded. Around three quarters of the students were affected by conscription or voluntary enrolment. This led to an enormous drop in the numbers of students who continued to study. During the war years there were usually only about 300 students present in Erlangen.

The events of the Bavarian Revolution of 1918 and 1919 and the subsequent abolition of the monarchy meant that the title ‘Rector Magnificentissimus’ which had previously been born by the ruling monarch now disappeared. The office of Pro-rector was therefore changed to ‘Rector (Magnificus)’ in 1920. Similarly, the term ‘Pro-rector’ replaced the previous title ‘Exprorektor’. For most students, the years immediately after the First World War were marked by poverty and many students from poor backgrounds came to the University in the hope of building new futures for themselves despite their modest schooling.

Inflation and the bankruptcy of numerous scholarship organisations added to their plight. The Student Representatives Committee was founded in 1919 and was followed in 1922 by what is now the Studentenwerk (Student Services) which, in 1930, opened the Studentenhaus that still stands on Langemarckplatz today. On the whole, however, after its rapid growth in the middle of the nineteenth century, the 1920s were a period of stagnation for the University.

1928 – Faculty of Sciences founded

The increasing importance of the natural sciences that became so apparent in the second half of the nineteenth century led to a change in the University’s structure. In 1928, the natural sciences were separated off what was then the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and given faculty status of their own.

1933 – The University’s autonomy falls prey to National Socialism

A nationalistic climate of opinion had already clearly been in evidence at the University in Erlangen during the Weimar Republic, and in November 1929, the German National Socialist Student Association gained an absolute majority of the seats in the Student Representatives Committee elections for the first time at any German university. During the years of Nazi dictatorship, Erlangen was not spared any of the events that also occurred at other universities, such as the dismissal of professors unwilling to toe the party line, the book burnings of May 1933, or the inclusion of subjects that conformed to Nazi ideology, such as ‘race research’.

The University’s academic autonomy was revoked during the Nazi period and the Führer principle was also applied to the university constitution, as the rector was no longer elected by the professorial body but was appointed by the Reichsminister of academic affairs. As happened at universities across Germany at this time, student numbers in Erlangen dropped greatly as a result of the Nazi educational policy.

1945 – The University undergoes reconstruction

Botanical Garden (image: Dr. Clemens Wachter)

Botanical Garden (Image: Dr. Clemens Wachter)

By the end of the Second World War, Erlangen was the only university town in Germany, other than Heidelberg, which had almost entirely escaped destruction. Students flocked to the University when teaching resumed in the winter semester 1945/46, and there were five times as many students as before the war. Whereas in the summer semester 1927 there had been 1340 students and ten years later there had been 967, by the summer semester 1947, the University had 5316 students.

However, as the other German universities gradually reopened their doors, the numbers in Erlangen began to drop again towards the end of the 1950s, so that by the winter semester 1956/57, Erlangen was the smallest university in West Germany.

1953 – New buildings are constructed

Detention cells (image: Dr. Clemens Wachter)

Detention cells (Image: Dr. Clemens Wachter)

The University now needed to provide enough new buildings to house all of its departments and institutes. In an attempt to preserve the University’s character with its individual buildings clustered together in the city centre, the new buildings were not constructed on a campus site isolated from the town centre, as was the case elsewhere, but were instead built on a variety of central sites which had previously served other purposes.

This was the case with the old barracks on Bismarckstraße, where a new complex for law, theology, humanities and social sciences was unveiled in 1953. Further new buildings followed in the city centre, in particular for the Faculty of Medicine, such as the Department of Neurosurgery in 1978, which was built on Schwabachanlage where previously the psychiatric clinic had stood.

The most notable expansion which took place at the University in the 1960s was in the field of engineering. The post-war need to modernise provided the impetus to add a department of engineering, a wish that had been expressed as early as 1903. Staff at the Faculty of Sciences now expressed the need for an independent faculty for electrical and mechanical engineering, which was given the support of the senate in 1957.

1961 – The Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Sciences is founded

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (image: Dr. Clemens Wachter)

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (Image: Dr. Clemens Wachter)

Shortly after these additions, the University expanded in a different direction by incorporating the municipally-funded college of business, economics and social sciences in Nuremberg, founded in 1919, into the University to form what was then its sixth faculty. From then on the University adopted the name under which it is known today, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg.

The teaching of economics and business administration, which had until this point played only a minor role in what was then the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Erlangen, could now be carried out on a much larger scale on its own site in Nuremberg. This amalgamation accelerated the growth in student numbers which reached a new peak at the end of the 1960s.

1966 – The Faculty of Engineering is founded

Roter Platz on Südgelände (southern campus) (image: Dr. Clemens Wachter)

Roter Platz on Südgelände (southern campus) (Image: Dr. Clemens Wachter)

In 1962, after lengthy debate, the Bavarian parliament finally decided to establish a Faculty of Engineering in Erlangen. In this respect, the University had won out against the city of Nuremberg which had been requesting that a technical university be established in Nuremberg for decades.

Since the expansive areas of building land required for this project were not available in the centre of Erlangen, the foundations for a new university campus were laid in the south east of the city in 1964. The formal establishment of the Faculty of Engineering, which became the seventh faculty at FAU at the time, took place in 1966. At this time, the University was the only institution in Germany with a faculty of engineering which was integrated into the existing structures of a classical research university and not set up as an autonomous university.

1968 – The student movement develops

At FAU, as elsewhere, the following years were dominated by the student movement, a movement which was to have such long-lasting effects on academic life. The student protests, which affected universities throughout Germany, were initially a response to issues which were purely university-related, such as poor study conditions. In 1969, the student movement grew more radical and became an instrument of opposition to the political system in general. In cooperation with other social groups, this grew into what became known as the extra-parliamentary opposition movement.

There was a great confrontation, particularly in the debate over the Bavarian Higher Education Act of 1974, sections of which banned student representatives from exercising a general political mandate, and over the German Higher Education Act of 1976. These years also brought about many changes to the University’s public image, as many long-established traditions were abolished. There was an end to professors wearing gowns and, in 1968, the celebration of Founder’s Day, the ‘dies academicus’, which until then had been held in the Baroque splendour of the Redoutensaal, was transferred to the rather less flamboyant ambience of the Auditorium Maximus where it has taken place ever since.

1972 – The Faculty of Education is founded

The Faculty of Education was established in 1972, becoming the University’s eighth faculty at the time. It grew out of the Institute for Teacher Training which was established in 1956 and later upgraded in 1958 to become the Pädagogische Hochschule Nürnberg, a teacher training college, before becoming a faculty at FAU. By 2007, the University had 11 faculties, as the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences was divided into two independent faculties and the Faculty of Sciences was spilt into three others.

FAU reached a new milestone in the winter semester 1991/92 when, for the first time, it had over 30,000 students. Until the middle of the nineteenth century, around 40 percent of students were enrolled in the faculties of Theology and Law, but starting in second half of the twentieth century a large percentage of the student population were drawn towards the newer disciplines of engineering and of business administration, economics and social sciences.

2000 – New reforms take place

Röthelheim Campus (image: Dr. Clemens Wachter)

Röthelheim Campus (Image: Dr. Clemens Wachter)

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg is faced with new challenges. The extension of the buildings on the Südgelände (southern campus) and the erection of new buildings in the city centre are currently changing the physical appearance of the University. For example, the Röthelheim Campus was opened on the site of the former artillery barracks in 2001.

The University was quick to implement the changeover to the new Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees as prescribed by the Bavarian State Ministry of Sciences, Research and the Arts, and these degree programmes replaced the former Diplom and Magister programmes by the end of the decade.

Furthermore, in order to retain an competitive position on an international scale and meet the challenges of the future, the Senate voted on 7 February 2007 to carry out a comprehensive reform of the University’s structure. Accordingly, in the winter semester 2007/08, the eleven faculties were reorganised into the five faculties which the University has today. These faculties are sub-divided into departments with internal structures which are designed to strengthen existing collaborations and create possibilities for new ones.