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The Franz Joseph University of Cluj/Kolozsvár

Although Cluj/Kolozsvár acted as the political capital of Transylvania only for a short period of time, this city was seen as a spiritual center for centuries beginning with the Age of Reformation. It gave home to the famous secondary schools of three denominations. Amongst these, the Catholic Secondary School even had an academic past: first in 1581 István Báthory, Prince of Transylvania, and also King of Poland at the time, and then, in 1774-75 Queen Maria-Theresa tried to transform this school in a higher education institution. The Báthory University functioned for almost a quarter of century, while the Faculty of Law and the Medical School established by Queen Maria-Theresa existed for almost a century.

After the “Compromise” in 1867, and the re-enactment of the union between Hungary and Transylvania, it became obvious that in addition to the University of Budapest, Hungary also needs a second University. At the beginning, two cities, Bratislava/Pozsony and Cluj/Kolozsvár competed for this educational institution, but the later one presented three advantages over the city of Bratislava/Pozsony. The premises of the former government offices that became vacant as a result of the union were appropriate to accommodate most of the departments. In addition to the three secondary schools, a college, worth as two faculties, the Law Academy and the Institute of Medicine and Surgery, began to function in the city with a prestigious staff. The teaching activity was assisted by the rich library, botanical garden and museum collections of the Transylvanian Museum Association. 

The establishment of the University was initiated by the staff of the Law Academy in the autumn of 1867. This idea was espoused by József Eötvös, the Minister of Religion and Public Education. He also submitted a bill in this respect to the Parliament in April 1870. The project was, however, implemented during the mandate of Minister Tivadar Pauler. King Franz Joseph granted the establishment of the University of Cluj/Kolozsvár on May 29, 1872, in the hope of subsequently obtaining the approval of the Parliament. A call for application for a number of 42 professor positions was launched, and of 120 applicants a number of 34 professors and 5 special professors were appointed on their respective positions on September 29, 1872, and took the oath before Ministry Commissioner Imre Mikó on October 19. For the first academic year Áron Berde, professor of economics, and Sámuel Brassai, as senior professor, were elected as Rector and Vice-Rector, respectively. On November 10, together with the solemn inauguration of the Rector, the University is opened. Of the four faculties (Law; Medicine; Arts, Linguistics and History; Arithmetic and Natural Sciences), the key staff members of the first two faculties were transferred from local higher education institutions. The staff of the Faculty of Arts included only three local professors. The most difficult proved to be the recruitment of natural scientists. In this case, local capacity was represented by professor Brassai, and the positions on two departments remained vacant. Many of this prestigious first staff became the pride of Hungarian science in their respective fields, and eleven members left for a position at the University of Budapest, while several others were considered for membership of the Hungarian Academy of Science.

During the 1890’s a new generation applied for staff positions that were already proposed for appointment by the University, and a third generation also appeared around 1910. The staff gradually increased to over 60 members. The University of Budapest stole a number of 19 professors until 1919. Names like those of Kelemen Óvári, law historian, Gyozo Concha, expert in constitutional law and politician, Vilmos Schulek, ophthalmologist, Antal Genersich, pathologist, Aurél Török, physiologist and anthropologist, József Brandt, surgeon, or Zsigmond Purjesz, founder of the school of internal medicine, became legendary over time. As regards philosophers, Henrik Finály, author of dictionaries, Károly Szabó, historian and bibliographer, Károly Böhm, author of a philosophical system and founder of a school, Hugó Meltzl, Germanist, and Lajos Dézsi were all acknowledged experts of their time. Hugó Meltzl became especially appreciated during the last decades. Together with Sámuel Brassai, he launched the first journal of comparative literature history in the world (Acta Comparationis Litterarum Universarum) in 1877 at Cluj/Kolozsvár. Among the mathematicians and natural scientists there were internationally acknowledged personalities, such as Lajos Martin in the research of flying, Géza Entz in zoology, Antal Koch in geology, Gyula Farkas in theoretical physics. Lipót Fejér, Frigyes Riesz and Alfréd Haar were the founders of the Hungarian school of mathematics.

The number of students increased from the initial 258 to 1000 in 1898. In 1911 a number of 2405 students were registered. Half of them were studying at the Faculty of Law, and a quarter of them were students of the Medical School. As of 1895, women could also be enrolled at the University. Until 1919, a number of 149 private teachers had been trained graduated and a more than 10,000 medical diplomas were granted.

In 1881, the Sovereign authorized the issuance of the University’s Deed of Foundation and allowed the institution to wear his name, thus becoming the Hungarian Franz Joseph Royal University. Its Deed of Foundation, however, was issued on the 25th Anniversary of the opening and it was published on October 12, 1895. On this date, the existence of the University became definitive, and major construction works were also begun about this time. The building of the Institute of Chemistry in the Mikó Garden was finished in 1882-1883. The building of the Anatomy Department and Physiology Department were placed along the Mikó Street in 1884 and 1886, respectively. The main building block on Farkas Street was erected between 1893 and 1902 in the place of the former Jesuit buildings. A group of statue by Ede Mayer depicting the establishment of the University was placed in the tympanum of the building’s front. The pavilions of the University’s clinics were completed between 1897 and 1903. The modern building of the University Library was also completed by 1906-1907 which gave home to the joint library of the University and the Transylvanian Museum Association which had a collection of 400,000 volumes by 1919.

At the end of Second World War, on the Christmas of 1918 Cluj/Kolozsvár was transferred under Romanian authority. In May 1919, the Romanian authorities invited staff members to take an oath if allegiance to the Romanian king. As at that time no international decision was adopted regarding the fate of Transylvania, the teaching staff was in no position to fulfill this illegal demand. The professors were removed with military assistance, and the Romanian “took over” the University with all its equipments. The Romanian-language University of Cluj/Kolozsvár was opened on November 3rd, 1919.

Some of the Hungarian staff members tried to establish an inter-denominational private university and teacher training college, but these efforts resulted in prohibitions placed on by the Romanian authorities. A significant portion of the teaching staff and the students escaped to Budapest and re-launched the activity. The Resolution adopted by the Hungarian Parliament on June 17, 1921, designated as a temporary seat for the University of Cluj/Kolozsvár the city of Szeged which started its activity on October 10, 1921, with 1977 students. Most of the professors from Cluj/Kolozsvár also moved to Szeged.

Pursuant to the Second Arbitration of Vienna, on August 30, 1940, together with Cluj/Kolozsvár, North-Transylvania was re-annexed to Hungary. Consequently, it was natural for the Franz Joseph University to return to its initial seat. The Hungarian Parliament provided for the re-settlement of the University in a bill adopted in October 1940. György Bartók, the rector elected in Szeged took over the University of Cluj/Kolozsvár, and held the opening ceremony with the participation of Minister Bálint Hóman and Governor Horthy on October 24. The University was extended by a fifth faculty, of economics. The number of departments increased to 85. Eminent scientists from Transylvania joined the professors from Szeged. Relatively young talents were also appointed to head departments. A Scientific Institute of Transylvania was established to research Transylvanian characteristics and problems.

Among the prominent personalities in the teaching staff were László Búza, legal expert, Dezso Miskolczy (neurologist), Imre Haynal (physician), Áprád Gyergyay (otorhinolaryngologist) and László Haranghy (pathologist). Among the philosophers, the name of linguists Gedeon Mészöly and Attila T. Szabó, literary historians György Kristóf and Lajos György, historian Vencel Bíró and art historian Zoltán Felvinczi Takáts became real legends. And the list goes on with botanist Rezso Soó, zoologist József Gelei, physicist and school-founder Zoltán Gyulai or atom scientist Pál Gombás. The proud of Faculty of Economics was geographer Géza Teleki.

Even in war conditions, the University functioned with 2500 students for five years at Cluj/Kolozsvár. When the Hungarian government ordered the relocation of the University in August 1944, they stayed there at the request of the local population and continued its activity with 600 students, hiding in shelters in the middle of bombings, thus ensuring the conservation of Hungarian-language higher education at Cluj/Kolozsvár.

After the entire Transylvania was re-annexed to Romania, the government under Groza, formed on March 6, 1945, took measures regarding the University following long consultation. It relocated the Romanian-language University to Cluj/Kolozsvár, and established a new Hungarian-language state university in place of the silently terminated Franz Joseph University on June 1, 1945. This was provided with only one building (Regina Maria Gymnasium for Girls, formerly “De Gerando” Gymnasium). In december 1945 this new state university, which however continued the old traditions, assumed the name of János Bolyai, a great mathematician borne at Cluj/Kolozsvár. Thus, the Franz Joseph University has a history of 73 years, of which 52 years are associated with the city of Cluj/Kolozsvár, 19 years to Szeged and 2 years to Budapest.

                                                                                                György Gaal