The first European Universities, the ancient predecessors of today's great tradition, were established in the cities of Italy, France, and England, and on the Iberian Peninsula. In the 14th century, they also expanded into the Slavic and Germanic world, as well as into Hungary. Prague founded its university in 1348, while Krakow followed in 1364, Vienna in 1365, and Heidelberg in 1386. The Slovenian lands found themselves at the edge of this early development, predominately because there was no strong stately or dynastic centre to be found in this territory. People from our lands went to study abroad, having become professors at universities locally as well as far away. The university closest to us was in Padua, while the most "familiar" university in the Habsburg lands, to which nine-tenths of Slovene territory belonged, was the university in Vienna. In the 16th century, the significance of education increased as the aristocracy also became interested in it; religious struggles that erupted with the Reformation movement also contributed to increased activity in the field of education. In 1527, Philip I of Hesse established the first exclusively Protestant university in Marburg by the river Lahn. In the lands occupied by Slovenians, the first rural estate schools were established by the Protestants. One of these was the provincial school in Graz, which obtained the designation of higher education at its higher levels after 1574. To defend the Catholic faith and their authority, the Habsburgs turned to the Jesuits, who established colleges in Graz, Klagenfurt, Ljubljana, and Trieste. The most eminent of these was the college in Graz. Due to the internal division among the Habsburgs, between 1564 and 1619, Graz was the capital of the special Inner Austrian region – for all practical purposes, a state – that included all of the Habsburg Slovenians.
The Jesuit colleges also included gymnasiums and offered certain higher education courses. Their scopes differed from one town to another, and from one historical period to another. Higher education in Graz, which also included philosophy and theology, but not law and medicine, obtained university status in 1585. This meant that it had the right to grant academic titles. It was this right, and not the scope or content of the study, that separated a university from other higher education institutions. The founding charter of the University of Graz emphasised an aspiration to attract people of all the different nations or languages that belonged under the Archduke's jurisdiction. Higher education also reached Ljubljana. In 1593, the bishop of Ljubljana, Janez Tavčar, proposed to the Pope and the Archduke that they establish a Jesuit college in Ljubljana. On November 6, 1595, the Archduke accepted and approved the previously reached agreements concerning this proposal that ensured the appropriate income for the college. On March 23, 1596, Pope Clement VIII established the college. In 1597, The Jesuits arrived in Ljubljana. They immediately started offering gymnasium classes. During the following years, they built their centre at Sveti Jakob. The first higher education lectures, those on Casuistry (moral theology), began in 1619. The beginning of the next century brought aspirations to expand theological study, establish philosophical theory, and obtain university status. The members of the Academiae Operosorum, particularly the chronicler, historian, and lawyer, Janez Gregor Dolničar, played an active role in these endeavours, but the Estates of Carniola also contributed to the cause with their financial means. As far as philosophical study was concerned, the initiative was a success. Classes in logics began in 1704, followed by those in physics, metaphysics, and mathematics. Thus a three-year, one could say, complete, philosophical study began, as was common at philosophical faculties of the time. The total number of Ljubljana's higher education students in 1725 was 221. "The content of our philosophical studies at that time must undoubtedly seem rather modest to us, but it was no different at the Protestant philosophical faculties either," Fran Zwitter wrote in his excellent paper on higher education in Slovenia before 1918, published two decades ago in the collection of papers Petdeset let slovenske univerze v Ljubljani (i.e. Fifty Years of the Slovenian University in Ljubljana). At the time, the study of philosophy represented a study programme that had to be completed before students were allowed to enrol in the theological faculty, medical faculty, or the faculty of law. The pre-history of today's Faculty of Arts therefore began with the study of philosophy, established at the Jesutit college in Ljubljana in the year 1704, some 285 years ago. In the middle of the 18th century, the interests of the State and the Jesuits concerning education began to grow apart. The progress of society and science required new perspectives and subjects. In 1752, Maria Theresa ordered a reform of the study of philosophy. The professors were to stop explaining natural sciences by proceeding from the Holy Bible and Aristotle, and were rather to ground their explanations in reason. The importance of experimental physics and natural history were emphasised. Both subjects were to be taught "without the metaphysical clutter". The reform introduced a two-year study of philosophy, featuring three professors as a standard. The subjects included logics, metaphysics, mathematics, general and experimental physics, the ethics of politics and the national economy, and natural history. Completion of the aforementioned study was obligatory for anyone who wished to proceed to study medicine. (A three-year study of philosophy was prescribed for future theologians and lawyers, with history and German rhetoric in the third year.) New non-mandatory subjects were also beginning to be introduced in some places, including Ljubljana. The state began replacing Latin with German as the language of choice in education. The state believed that German had to be disseminated as much as possible in the hope that it would eventually become the language of choice for all citizens. These tendencies gave rise to the Slovenian national movement, which is usually considered to have begun with the booklet published in 1768 by a barefoot Augustinian monk named Marko Pohlin. In it, he protested against the spread of German, emphasised the importance of the Slovene language, and demanded that Slovene be introduced to all fields of culture, as well as to intellectuals and institutions of higher education.
In 1773, the Pope disbanded the Jesuit order. The Jesuit colleges were taken over by the state. The professoriate still partially consisted of former Jesuits, joined by the secular clergy and later also laymen. Joseph II modernised and streamlined the educational system, which resulted in Graz losing its university status for a while; Joseph II also consolidated the theological study programmes for all of our lands in the general seminar in Graz, which led to the disbanding of theology in Ljubljana. Two years later, he also terminated the study of philosophy (1785). The only higher education left in Ljubljana at that point was the recently introduced medical-surgical study programme. Bishop Herberstein and the Estates of Carniola fought for the re-introduction of the study of philosophy through special and initially unsuccessful petitions. Both petitions, which were probably written by Anton Tomaž Linhart, argued that the people in Carniola, Istria, Goriška, and the Province of Trieste, as well as in a large part of Carinthia and Styria, almost all the way to river Mura (therefore, a population of more than one million people), speak a unique, Slavic language, and that the knowledge of the latter is required for teachers, priests, and officials. April 1788 saw the re-introduction of the study of philosophy, and after the abandonment of the general seminar in 1791, the study of theology also returned to Ljubljana. Thus the Ljubljana lyceum (this was the name for all higher schools that were not universities) was again revived. The next change came with the period of Napoleon's Illyrian Provinces, which, although they lasted only four years (1809–1813), represented an important turning point in Slovene education. In Ljubljana, the 1810-1811 academic year brought the so-called "central schools" (écoles centrales) and a proper university that had the right to grant titles and offered study courses for doctors, surgeons, engineers-architects, lawyers, and theologians (there were no students enrolled into the prospective programmes for pharmacists and surveyors). There was no specialised study of philosophy. The first year of study was the same for all programmes and included courses in rhetoric, metaphysics, and physics. Seventy-seven students were enrolled in the first year, 56 of whom were theologians. In total, the central schools boasted 300 students and 11 professors. The Austrians reverted education to its previous state. Within the lyceum, the study of philosophy, theology, and medicine-surgery was again revived. Various non-obligatory subjects were introduced to the stud of philosophy, among them also Slovene language, which has been taught from the beginning (1817) and until the abolition of the lyceum by Franc Metelko.
New changes to the existing state were brought on by the events of 1848. The revolution called for the introduction of new and larger study programmes and the establishment of the university. Some of these demands represented a continuation of old aspirations, while some of them represented something completely new qualitatively. Namely, the demand for a university in Ljubljana appeared for the first time as part of a Slovenian national programme. On April 16, the Slovenians of Graz connected the idea of United Slovenia with aspirations for a Slovenian university for the first time. This national demand began to chip away at the traditional covenant between the district nobility, the bourgeoisie, and the intelligentsia. Since the Slovenian Party demanded the university, its opponents naturally found themselves opposing it. While that opposition might not have been very distinct in 1848, it became much more clearly manifest in the next couple of decades. Regarding the request of the graduate students of philosophy for classes in law, the Administrative District of Carniola's study consultant wrote – already in 1848 – that the Slovenian influence had expanded dauntingly in the recent period, that such courses would have a harmful effect, and that consequently the request has to be denied. Immediately following the revolution, we witnessed the emergence of plans for reform. These plans were shaped into the following actual reforms: an abolishment of the lyceums, a qualitative strengthening of universities, a transfer of the current study of philosophy to the seventh and eighth year of gymnasium, and, in turn, the introduction of a quality four-year study of "philosophical" subjects at the university level. This reform represents the beginning of a modern faculty based on science and quality. Whereas these changes in and of themselves undoubtedly represented an important step forward, they nevertheless brought unpleasant consequences for Slovenians, who were now forced to go abroad if they wanted to study something other than theology. The fall of 1849 saw the end of philosophy as well as the termination of the study of medicine and surgery, effectively ending Ljubljana's lyceum. All that remained of higher education was theology, offered at a diocesan educational institution. The struggle for a Slovenian university now began; it boomed at the time of the Slovenian popular assembly (1868-1871), especially in the year 1898 and afterwards, when national differences in Austria became much fiercer. The Representative Assembly of Carniola demanded that a university be established – one that will include the Faculties of Philosophy, Law, and Theology. They established a university fund and endowed two scholarships for Slovenians who wished to habilitate at a Faculty of Law or Philosophy in Austria and who would be prepared to accept a professorship at Ljubljana University. Similar scholarships were endowed by the Austrian Ministry of Education. During the decade leading up to the First World War, young Slovenian jurists, Slavicists, and other students holding scholarships of both kinds furthered their studies in German, Russia, and elsewhere. Among them were five men who later became the first professors at the Ljubljana's Faculty of Arts. The establishment of the university was finally put on the agenda during the fourth week of existence of the State of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs and the National Government of Slovenia.
On November 23, 1918, Mayor Ivan Tavčar and the philosopher, Mihajlo Rostohar, who had habilitated at the Czech University in Prague, convened a meeting at the town hall. Present at the meeting were scientists who had already been appointed as university professors, habilitated assistant professors, representatives of the Slovene Society, societies of professors, jurists, doctors, and technicians, and the cultural section of the National Council. They decided that the preparations leading to the establishment of the university were to be led by the University Commission, in agreement with the national government. The University Commission began its work on December 5, choosing Dr. Danilo Majaron as its president and the 28-year-old Dr. Fran Ramovš as its secretary. The former had already been vocal in regards of the need for the university in the National Council as early in 1898, while the latter had just habilitated in Graz and was recommended for the position of associate professor in Černovice. Initially, the University Commission considered establishing the Slovenian University at the University of Zagreb. The idea was to put in place Slovenian chairs and offer lectures in the Slovene language, while enabling Slovenian students to study there. Several habilitations in relation to this were prepared in Zagreb.
The idea of temporary arrangements for a Slovenian university in Zagreb encountered several obstacles, which resulted in a different plan being unveiled in February 1919: that of seeking the help of the government in Belgrade and setting up the university in Ljubljana immediately. In the beginning of March, everything seemed to be progressing quickly. The University Commission appointed sub-commissions for each of the future Faculties. These drafted the plans for the organisation of the Faculties by the end of the month, accompanied by proposals regarding the appointments of the first professors. The sub-commission for the Faculty of Arts proposed Josip Plemelj, a full professor of mathematics in Černovice, Rajko Nahtigal, a full professor of Slavic philology in Graz, and France Ramovš. The project foresaw 33 chairs, which were to be assumed by eight professors and habilitated assistant professors, six established scientists, five who were still habilitating, and four who were to be habilitated. All together this amounted to 23 Slovenians, four Serbs and Croats, two Czechs, one Russian, and one Austrian. Of the 31 proposed candidates, only 11 immediately or later actually came to the Faculty of Arts, with additional two arriving to the technology section. All of the above demonstrates just how uncertain things still were at the time. Not all that was planned came to fruition, since some people were not prepared to come, some did not successfully habilitate, and others were rejected by the Faculty at a later phase. In April, some complications arose in Belgrade, but were ultimately resolved. On June 30, the government adopted the outline of an act regarding the University of Ljubljana, which was adopted by the Temporary National Representation on July 16, and signed by the regent on July 23. The University of Belgrade had been operating under Serbian law since 1905 and the University of Zagreb ran under Croatian laws, while the University of Ljubljana would require special legislative provisions. To prevent further delay in establishing the university, special provisions were placed in the law, stating that "the University of Ljubljana shall operate under the laws and regulations [...] of the University of Belgrade", "until special laws and regulations shall come into effect". This provision was implemented in regards to university management, but not in regards to study groups and exams, particularly not initially. Although the special act that was to regulate the University of Ljubljana was never published, a unified University Act for all universities in the country had been under preparation. It was only published in the time of the dictatorship, on June 28, 1930. On August 31, 1919, the first 18 professors were appointed by king's decree. Most of them were selected from the list of candidates already proposed by the University Commission in March. Accompanying Plemelj, Nahtigal, and Ramovš was Ivan Prijatelj, who had already produced extensive research in the field of literary history at that point, but not yet habilitated. In fact, his habilitation work had already been accepted at Prague University, but Prijatelj decided to withdraw his habilitation request before the habilitation lecture and exam (1911). That University of Ljubljana operated under the Belgrade Act at that point, which did not foresee the habilitation procedure, enabled Prijatelj to receive the appointment which he entirely deserved. On September 20, 1919, the University Commission gathered for the last time, preceded two days earlier by the first assembly of the University Council, at which all full professors were present. For a certain period, the University Council managed all matters in regards to the University and prepared proposals for additional professors. Four new full professors were elected to the Faculty of Arts on October 7: the botanist Fran Jesenko, who had already been assistant professor at the Vienna higher education school for soil culture before the war, pedagogue Karl Ozvald, who had habilitated in Zagreb in 1914, literary historian France Kidrič, who had just recently habilitated in Vienna (1919), and historian Ljudmilo Hauptmann, who had already proven himself with his excellent scientific work, but had not yet habilitated. On November 12, the first rector and deans were elected. This marks the beginning of the independent existence of the Faculty of Arts. The University's first four professors carried heavy workloads: Plemelj, who was senior in rank, became Rector, Nahtigal became the Dean, Prijatelj became Vice-Dean, and the youngest, Ramovš, managed the university affairs.
On November 15, enrolment began. On Wednesday, December 3, at 9:00, the inaugural lecture was held in the building of the former Provincial Mansion. Dr. Ramovš delivered a talk on the historical grammar of the Slovene language. Towards the end of the year, several protests against stalling the appointment of elected professors and the recognition of credits took place. The first appointments were made on January 27, 1920. Fifteen professors and assistant professors were appointed that year. With the appointment of the twentieth professor in February 1921, the formation of the Faculty of Arts had largely been completed. A little more than two years had passed since the beginning of the final preparations. More than one year passed before the next appointments. Most further appointments served to replace positions that had been vacated and, to a lesser degree, to start new disciplines. Professors and assistant professors were elected by the Faculty Councils, with only full professors having voting rights in regards to the election of full professors. The elections were recognised by the University Council, but the final outcome depended on the Ministries of Education and Finance. During the first decade of the Faculty of Arts' existence, 27 professors and assistant professors taught there, for either a longer or a shorter period. At the time of their appointment, two were younger than 30, 14 were in their thirties, eight were in their forties, and three were older than 50. The youngest were Ramovš and the zoologist Kenk, who have become university teacher sat 29 and 28, respectively. Their nationalities were the following: 18, or exactly two-thirds of them were Slovenians, three were Serbs, two were Croats, one was a German from Ptuj, one was Czech, and one was Russian. Twenty-three teachers were awarded a doctorate before the end of the First World War. Most of these teachers (12) came from the University of Vienna, while fewer than half (6) hailed from Graz. Two of them held doctorates from Russia, one from Zagreb, one from Černovice, and one from Switzerland. Only four obtained doctorates after the war: one each in Vienna, Graz, Zagreb, and Ljubljana. The geographer, Anton Melik, was the first teacher who was awarded an assistant professorship based on a dissertation from the University of Ljubljana. Nevertheless, he was still one of the Vienna students. Of the four teachers who obtained doctorates after the war, two completed their studies before the war, while two began to study before the end of the war and finished after the war (in Vienna and Graz). None of the professors who taught at the Faculty during the first decade of its existence would have studied there. Two-thirds of the professors remained at the Faculty until their death or retirement, while one-third departed for other institutions. As was pointed out at the meeting of the Faculty Council on January 19, 1926, the Slovenian character of the University of Ljubljana largely depended on the Faculty of Arts, therefore granting it a special place among the Faculties. The Faculty of Arts represented a great advancement in the development of Slovenian science. Nevertheless, it is difficult to agree with the claim that Slovenian science gained its true foundation only with the establishment of its own university. Science formulated in the Slovene language and using Slovene expert terminology had already taken shape before the First World War. It is true that not all disciplines were equally well developed, but the progress had nevertheless achieved the stage at which expansion into new fields and the continuous need to revise and to update terminology were no longer causing considerable interruptions. Not having a university simply meant that Slovene had to develop science without it. The university thus simply continued and expanded its previous work, but above all, it provided an opportunity for the systematic research of Slovenian territory and its past. The Slovenska Matica (i.e. the Slovene Society) and the Regional Museum, which represented two centres of science and organisation before the war, were now simply transferred to the Faculty of Arts. Although the Faculty did not publish scientific journals at the time, various professional societies began to form around its professors, leading to the publication of scientific journals.
At the end of the first decade, the Faculty of Arts was manned by 21 professors and assistant professors. By far the most populous was theDepartment of Slavistics, which included two chairs for Slavic literature with a special focus on Slovenian literature – or more precisely, for Slovenian and Slavic literature. One professor researched the older period (Kidrič) and the other professor the more contemporary period (Prijatelj). Prijatelj's lectures on 19th century Slovenian literary history were also lectures on the political history of that period. The third chair was that of Slovene language. Its head, Fran Ramovš, described the history of Slovenian language, provided the basic outline of Slovenian dialects, and simultaneously represented one of the leading individuals of the university and the Slovenian scientific scene. The fourth chair covered Slavic Philology (Nahtigal), while the fifth was responsible for Serbo-Croatian language and literature (Stojičevič). At the time, Slavistics was thus not only first in terms of the number of professors, but also in terms of importance and renown. In the period between the two wars and following the first Rector (the mathematician Plemelj), there were three other Rectors who also came from the Faculty of Arts; all three were Slavicists (Kidrič, Nahtigal, and Ramovš). In terms of organisation, the Department of History lagged behind Slavistics. It included chairs for ancient history, the general history of the Middle Ages, and Serbian and Croatian history. The general history of the Middle Ages was initially related to older Slovenian history, and later, in the time of Hauptmann's successor, Milko Kos, with auxiliary historical disciplines. Whereas Slovenian history thus disappeared from the official name in 1926, it continued to be taught at lectures. Kos continued to taught Slovenian history with the emphasis on the middle ages but now and then also touching upon contemporary events. The Serbian and Croatian history also focussed on the Middle Ages. The omission of modern history and the unbalanced treatment of Slovenian history represented two significant deficiencies of the chair of history in comparison to that of Slavistics. In addition to the seminars in Slavistics and history, the Faculty was home to 10 other seminars and four institutes during the first decade. Only three of these Faculties had two teachers each, while another three for the most part had none. Physics therefore had its own professor, the Pole Rabinowicz, for only two years. Comparative literature was overseen by the literary historians from Slavistics and archaeology was presided over by the professor for ancient history, who was an archaeologist by profession, while physics, mineralogy, biology, and mathematics depended on collaboration with the Faculties of Technology and Medicine. The disciplines in which the Faculty of Arts did not have its own professors were taught by professors from the two aforementioned Faculties. At the same time, professors from the Faculty of Arts also taught at other institutions. Often, the Faculty had to resort to using part-time staff without habilitations. Doctorates were initially governed by the former Austrian regulations. Two additional viva voce examinations, one in the major and the other in the minor subject, were required in addition to the dissertation. In 1925, the Faculty adopted the Belgrade system. The requirement for applying for the doctorate was now the completion of a diploma exam, while the questions at the doctoral exam was now required to be based on the content of the dissertation. The exam was to prove "that the candidate has written the dissertation independently and that he or she has mastered the methods, sources, results, and literature" of the scientific field to which the dissertation belonged. Before being promoted, one was required to submit 100 printed copies of the dissertation to the Rectorate. While this system enabled expanded control of the quality of the doctoral candidate's writing and of his or her commission, it also represented a substantial burden for the author of the dissertation, since he or she had to obtain a publisher or find a financial supporter. The first title of doctor philosophiae from the University of Ljubljana was granted to Anka Mayer on July 15, 1920 for a dissertation in chemistry. Fifty-six doctorates were granted in during the first decade of the Faculty, the highest number of them in Slavistics (11). With eight doctorates, the main consultants came from other Faculties. Dissertations were required to be written in Slovene or Serbo-Croatian, although the Romanist Anton Debeljak was allowed to write his dissertation in French. When publishing dissertations in chemistry, it was habitual to acknowledge both the mentor and the writer as authors. The Faculty Council of the Faculty of Arts protested firmly against this on January 16, 1929 and decided that it can only recognise the dissertation if it is published only under the candidate’s name. The number of enrolled students remained low until the Second World War, and the number of students enrolled in all Austrian Faculties of Philosophy had been very unstable in the period leading up to the First World War. The number was the lowest in the year 1885 (12), while the years 1901–1907 saw more than 100 students annually, with the record set in 1904 with 221 students. Ljubljana's Faculty of Arts began with 245 students in 1919, surpassing the number 300 for the first time in 1927.
Dr. Vasilij Melik, Full Professor