Bologna, University of


Bologna, University of
   The older of the two greatest universities of medieval and Renaissance Italy, known especially for the study of law but also possessing a highly regarded faculty of medicine. The university came into being by natural growth, beginning in the late 11th century, and like its northern counterpart, Paris, it worked out its institutional structures gradually in the middle decades of the 12th century. The city government granted financial support based on a tax on goods imported for sale; it appointed a commission that chose professors, set salaries, made regulations, and defined the privileges and exemptions of students and faculty. In practice, however, the students constituted the heart of the institution. The universitas or association of students was the university, and though the professors provided professional expertise and certified students for degrees, in many respects they were employees of the student guild. This type of organization, a university of students, was typical of universities in Italy and Mediterranean Europe, unlike the structure of northern universities like Paris, which originated as an association of teachers.
   Because Bologna was essentially a school of law and medicine, its students entered at a more advanced educational level and at a more mature age than in the north. Italian students matriculated in their late teens, while most students at Paris and other northern universities entered at about age 13. This difference in age of students probably was a major reason why Italian students played a more powerful role in university governance than was true of northern institutions. In the 15th century, students of law outnumbered students of the combined faculty of arts and medicine, but during the 16th century, medicine became the largest branch of the university. Bologna had no theological faculty at all until the late 15th century, another respect in which it was typical of Italian universities and unlike the northern ones. The fame of Bologna spread across the Alps, and nearly a third of the students were non-Italians. Germans were the most numerous foreign group, but the reputation of Bologna spread everywhere: a doctorate in law from Bologna was the most desirable degree in the profession, just as a medical doctorate from Padua had the highest prestige in that field.
   Since the city of Bologna was legally a part of the Papal States and experienced repeated attempts by the Bentivoglio dynasty and the popes to establish control, local political life was unstable and often violent. The university was so highly regarded, however, that it prospered in spite of the unstable political situation.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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