This University is the largest and most important institution of its kind in the Balkan Peninsula, or in Asia Minor. Though quite recently established, it has already done a great work for the peoples of the East, and every year its influence spreads.
Founded in 1837, seven years after the close of the War for Independence, it began its career with a few professors and barely 100 students. For a few years it occupied a modest-looking house of some fifteen rooms, in the old quarter of the town. But soon the University received a vigorous impulse to greater activity; students began to flock to Athens to study under the excellent German professors whom the King had imported, and wealthy Greeks at home and abroad began making endowments upon the institution. By 1848 most of the German professors had given place to Greeks, who had generally studied abroad. Since then the University, under the care of men who, unlike the German professors, speak the same language as the students, has grown rapidly; now it occupies large and handsome buildings, situated in a well-kept square, and it numbers on its rolls some 2,500 students and 130 professors.
The University is on the German plan, that is, it has four schools, Philology, Medicine, Law and Theology. In addition to these, there are the Scientific Department and the Astronomical Observatory of Athens. The departments of Law and Medicine are the largest, followed by Philology, Science and Theology in the order named.
The work consists chiefly of lectures, with two examinations a year. The regular course in any department is four years, at the end of which the student receives the degree of Doctor (of Philology, Law, Medicine or Science), together with a license to pursue his profession.
The University possesses a fine library of about 130,000 volumes, which number is steadily increasing. A large reading-room is open all day to the students, in the main building, and as the building is new and fire-proof there is no hesitation whatever in lighting the gas on winter afternoons. There is also a very good Natural History Museum belonging to the university, and a collection of valuable relics of antiquity belonging to the Government.
The University is supported by the Government, with the aid of the various endowments. The instruction is free, only a small charge - about $2 - being made for the use of the library, etc.
The government of the institution consists of a Prytanis (president), an Ephor or Dean, and a Syncletus or Senate, composed of five professors from each school. Each school is governed by its faculty, and annually elects five of its number to represent it in the senate. The professors are almost all Greeks, who have been sent to Germany, France and England for their advanced education. The departments of Philology and Law are particularly rich in able and learned instructors.
The students are also nearly all Greeks, and next to Greece, Armenia and Bulgaria are best represented. Only about 2-5 of the students come from Greece proper, the remainder hailing from all parts of the east.
Students life, as a Harvard man understands the phrase, does not exist at the University of Athens. Thus far no dormitories or dining halls have been put up for the students by the authorities, and the students are obliged to lodge and board in the city, where to be sure they find quarters at very reasonable rates. Yet they are drawn together in some degree by the few university societies that exist, such as the Historical Society, the Plato Club (Philosophical), the Solon Club (Law), and the Hippocrates Club (Medical).
But the pride of every student is the University Phalanx, which is a military organization of the students. It is a well disciplined regiment of young men from 20 to 30 years of age, and it is the pet of the army. The Phalanx is not under arms constantly; some years, as in '82 and '83, it does no drilling of any importance, but whenever there is any prospect of war, as in the present crisis in the East, it resumes its active discipline; and the university has just suspended most of the lectures temporarily, in order to allow the Phalanx to get its share of active service. The Government supplies arms and drill officers; and, according to the latest news, is having some difficulty in keeping the "boys" from marching off to the frontier. Many of the instructors belong to the Phalanx and are as enthusiastic about it as the students themselves.