October 25, 2011

Humanities Day 2011: The University of Paris: Daughter of the King

Daisy Delogu, Associate Professor of French Literature, traced the history of the University of Paris and examined the influence of Jean Gerson, its chancellor during the late 14th and early 15th centuries, on the role of universities.

Gerson, who was born a peasant and studied theology at the University before heading it as chancellor, famously referred to the University as “the Daughter of the King.” In its function as “daughter,” he considered it the loyal duty of University members to improve the political situation in France by honestly critiquing the king and his court, Delogu said.

Gerson also compared the University to a mother in the way it nurtured its students. According to Delogu, Gerson considered students to be seeds that gestated in the University’s womb and that, when finished with their studies, were perfect.

One of the oldest universities in the world, the University of Paris began as a group of scholars loosely organized as more of a guild than a formal institution, Delogu said. Once granted a charter, the University used its status to combat the pressures of the Pope and exercise independence. It also took advantage of this independence to skirt civil law, often to the chagrin of the Parisians—workers, resentful of the scholars for pursuing what they considered leisure, often had conflicts, sometimes violent, with the University.

The student body of the University comprised a diverse geographic and socioeconomic mix. Young men came from other countries in Europe and poor peasants could receive scholarships from wealthy lords to fund their education. During their time at the University of Paris, all students spent six to eight years in the Faculty of Arts—similar to today’s undergraduate program—before moving on to study theology, law, or medicine, according to Delogu.