Yaroslavl State University was established through the transformation of Yaroslavl Demidov Juridical Lyceum. The Decree of the Council of People’s Commissars of January 21, 1919 signed by V.I. Lenin stated: “In commemoration of the October Revolution of 1917, which liberated the working masses from political, economical and spiritual oppression on the part of propertied classes, and placed them on a broad path to the sources of knowledge and culture, to establish state universities in the cities of Kostroma, Smolensk, Astrakhan and Tambov, and to change into state universities the former Demidov Juridical Lyceum in Yaroslavl and the Teachers’ Training Institute in Samara. The date of establishing the universities should be considered to be the date of the first anniversary of the October Revolution — November 7, 1918”.
A new educational institution was placed in the buildings of the former St. Jonathan Seminary and the Theological Seminary. In autumn 1919, these buildings were occupied by sick quarters and the University temporarily moved to the building of the former Gymnasium of Antipova. By autumn 1920, the original buildings were given back. Studies at the University started in autumn 1918. At first, students studied only in the evening as most of them had to work in order to earn money.
Originally, the acting rector was Valerian Nikolayevich Shiryayev, the last principal of the Juridical Lyceum. He also became the first rector of the University after the elections of February 21, 1920. Until February 21, 1921, the vice-rector was Vasily Nikanorovich Myshtsin, then — Alexander Alexandrovich Manuilov. The University was managed by the Council, consisting of all professors and lecturers (in 1918 — 13 people). As the university expanded its activities, the Council’s functions were taken over by the University Presidium, consisting of the rector, the vice-rectors, the Council’s secretary, the Deans, the faculties’ secretaries and student representatives. The Presidium covered the issues of the university’s current affairs which were then submitted to the Council.
The economic issues were under the authority of the Board consisting of the rector, the vice-rector and the departments’ Deans (on January 1, 1919 — 7 people). The academic affairs were arranged by the departments independently. Academic issues common to all the departments had to be settled by the Academic Board. The Dean of the Law Department was Nikolai Nikolayevich Polyansky, the Dean of the Economics and Co-operation Department — Nikolai Nikolayevich Golubev, the Dean of the History Department — Vladimir Georgiyevich Shcheglov. On February 20, 1920, the Dean Vladimir Georgiyevich Shcheglov was replaced with Alexander Ivanovich Anisimov. In whole, the university organisation structure was not stable. The quantity and names of the faculties and departments continuously changed.
The first university students started studying in the only faculty — the Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences, which contained four departments: the Economics Department, the Law Department, the History Department and the Co-operation Department. The students, who did not graduate from the Lyceum, continued studying according to the Lyceum’s training programme for the second, third and fourth years.
In spring 1919, the People’s Commissariat for Education started closing the faculties of law and philology at higher education institutions, while opening the faculties of social sciences with three departments: law and politics, economics, and history. For Yaroslavl University this transformation was quite acceptable because the Co-operation Department easily merged with the Economics Department. The Dean of the Economics Department was Boris Vasiliyevich Chredin, the Law and Politics Department — Valerian Nikolayevich Shiryayev, who was replaced with Borys Antonovich Lapicki and Alexander Alexandrovich Manuilov. In spring 1920, the History Department was transformed into the Social-Pedagogical Department, and the Law and Politics Department into the Law Department. Special rooms were opened in the Faculty of Social Sciences to organise studies. By 1920 there were 16 rooms and 29 sub-departments.
The transformation of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University started in 1922, when it was combined with N.A. Nekrasov Teachers’ Training Institute (former Institute of Public Education). As a result of this transformation the Teachers’ Training Faculty was opened. In addition, the University also included the branch of Moscow Archaeological Institute, which existed in the city from 1912. This decision was taken by the Chief Directorate of Vocational Education of the People’s Commissariat for Education in February 1922. Pavel Nikodimovich Gruzdev was elected the Dean of the new faculty. The Teachers’ Training Faculty began preparing teachers for technical and secondary schools. The first academic year was common for all students and from the second year there was specialisation offered by three departments: the Department of Philology and History with Sub-departments of Philology and History, the Department of Biology and Geography and the Department of Physics and Mathematics. In addition to academic activity the lecturers and students of the Teachers’ Training Faculty worked with school teachers to improve their skills, and developed school educational programmes.
The University Medicine Faculty started its formation in January 1919. It was temporarily placed in the building of the Museum of Natural History Society, then in the building of the Theological Seminary. Ivan Osipovich Zubov was elected the Dean, on July 18, 1920. Later he was replaced by Pyotr Petrovich Dyakonov. Studies started on November 25, 1919. Because of financial difficulties, professors I.P. Rozhdestvensky and Ye.M. Shlyakhtin who started lecturing the courses in anatomy and histology, had to transfer to Tashkent University. Therefore, the anatomy lectures were delivered by Nikolai Stepanovich Solovyov. In summer 1920, Pyotr Petrovich Dyakonov was elected the Dean of the faculty. By spring 1920, there were 400 students at the Medicine Faculty. Eight special rooms were organised.
On October 18, 1919, the Workers’ Faculty (Rabfak) was opened as an independent university department. On September 25, 1919, Boris Vasiliyevich Chredin was elected the chairman of its Council. Eventually, he was replaced with Adam Oktovianovich Blazheyevich. In addition to the chairman, the Faculty’s Presidium included Vasily Nikanorovich Myshtsyn, a well-known educational specialist, Konstantin Nikolayevich Smirnov, and representatives of university students. Classes for the Workers’ Faculty students were held in the building of the Institute of Public Education. Not only the university professors lectured at the Workers’ Faculty, but also the teachers of the Institute of Public Education and the university students. The most attention was given to physics, mathematics and natural sciences. In the first year, the faculty had 68 students, only 15 of them passed to the second year. By the middle of 1921 both departments had 566 students.
In April 1920, a special Committee was set up at the university to develop the plan of creating the Agronomy Faculty. It included not only teachers, but also the representatives of other organisations interested in its opening (the Province Land Department, the Province Economics Council). The plan was developed by autumn 1920 and submitted for approval to the People’s Commissariat for Education. The Province Land Department proposed state farms “Shchedrino” and “Varino” to organise stock-farms for training. In November, the teaching staff was formed. On November 20, 1920, the University Council approved opening of the Agronomy Faculty. Alexander Alexandrovich Manuilov became the Dean. To organise practical training, four rooms and two laboratories (inorganic chemistry and soil science) were created.
In the beginning top priority for the University was forming the library stock as it was difficult to organise the teaching process without it, especially student self-study education. Books for the university were given by different organisations. A Library Committee was set up to buy profile literature. By 1920 the university library had already contained 60,000 volumes.
Only 13 lecturers came to the university from the Lyceum but as the number of courses increased in autumn 1919 already 34 teachers worked at the University. There was no competitive selection for the vacancies, teachers were invited on recommendation. They often combined work in Yaroslavl (2–3 days a week) with teaching at Moscow universities. Such a situation was caused by the lack of permanent dwelling in the city for the invited teachers. In 1920, the People’s Commissariat for Railways gave a special coach for teachers to go to Yaroslavl twice a week from Moscow. All newly employed teachers were confirmed at the University Council. By the 1920–1921 academic year, 144 teachers (43 — at the Workers’ Faculty, 43 — at the Medicine Faculty and 28 — at the Agronomy Faculty) already worked at the university, 39 of them being professors.
Unfortunately, many teachers elected to positions did not come to classes or later refused to start classes, breaking the University departments’ work. It was caused by difficulties of life in Yaroslavl after hostilities of July 1918 and rumours about an unstable position of the university itself. Though from 1918 to 1924 very prominent specialists worked at the university: lawyers Nikolai Nikolayevich Golubev, Boris Dmitriyevich Pletnev, Nikolai Nikolayevich Mikheyev, a historian and art critic Alexander Ivanovich Anisimov, historians Ivan Ivanovich Polosin, Valentin Nikolayevich Bochkaryov, Georgy Karlovich Weber, Dmitry Nikolayevich Eding, medics Ivan Porfiriyevich Rozhdestvensky, Nikolai Vasiliyevich Solovyov, a physicist Vasily Vladimirovich Shuleikin, biologists Mikhail Sergeyevich Kapterev, Mikhail Alexeyevich Yanson, Vyacheslav Averkiyevich Deinega, Boris Lvovich Bernstein.
In March 1922, the position of the Rector at the University was taken by Vasily Vasiliyevich Potyomkin, the head of the Department of Physiological Chemistry, doctor, and biochemist.
Student composition changed depending on the stages of reforming the University structure. 338 students came from the Lyceum. By the end of the first academic year there were 1,216 students at the university. According to the new entrance rules, rectors had the right to admit students throughout the year; therefore, the number of students constantly changed. Out of those who joined the university, only 201 people really attended classes. In autumn 1919, the University had 1,897 students on the list. In the 1920/1921 academic year, there were 2,316 students on the list, but 803 actually studied. 84% of students were from Yaroslavl and the Yaroslavl Province, others came from neighbouring provinces: Tver, Kostroma, Vladimir and others. Originally, student affairs were conducted by the Council of Senior Students, and later they were given to the Committee for Social Welfare. In autumn 1920, the Committee was replaced with an authorised person in charge of student welfare. Students delegated their representatives to the University governing bodies through the office of students representatives. In a short space of time, the University graduated many specialists, who represented different areas of scientific and public life. These were: a geographer Matvey Georgiyevich Kadek, a journalist Nikolai Grigoriyevich Palgunov, a medic Sergey Dmitriyevich Nosov, and a biologist Tikhon Alexandrovich Rabotnov.
Effecting the idea of curtailing the system of widespread university education and turning to preparing particular technical specialists, at the beginning of 1922, the People’s Commissariat for Education started the liquidation of universities’ law faculties. The Chief Directorate of Vocational Education of the People’s Commissariat for Education suggested closing the Faculty of Social Sciences of Yaroslavl State University “as represented by its Law Department” by the beginning of the 1922–1923 academic year. However, the Faculty of Social Sciences of Yaroslavl State University presented a petition to the Chief Directorate of Vocational Education signed by its head, B.V. Chredin to allow the students of the 5–9th semesters to get an accelerated training to graduate by July 1, 1923. At the same time, the letter of September 6, 1922 signed by the Chairman of the Yaroslavl Province Executive Committee, Shelekhes, and the secretary, Pakov, was received by the People’s Commissariat for Education. The letter contained the request not to liquidate the Law Department because it was the oldest one in the republic, was completely staffed with skilled teachers and was not a large budget item of the Faculty of Social Sciences. It was noted that the department conducted short-term courses for legal staff and the entrants (more than 100 people) already had been sent by the Soviet organisations. A similar petition was sent by the Yaroslavl Province Prosecutor and the Chairman of the Yaroslavl Province Council of People’s Judges. It stated the necessity to preserve a higher law school in Yaroslavl, in order to continue training courses at the department of legal staff. These appeals produced a certain effect and on September 15, 1922, the Board of the Chief Directorate of Vocational Education decided to allow the advanced students to finish an accelerated training by July 1, 1923. In October 1922, the Board of the People’s Commissariat for Education of the RSFSR approved this decision. On March 13, 1923 after the next petitions the Presidium of the Chief Directorate of Vocational Education Board extended the liquidation date of the Faculty of Social Sciences of Yaroslavl State University till October 1923, but warned the Yaroslavl Province Executive Committee and the University Direction that it was the final date and was not to be changed (p. 3, Protocol №16, March 13, 1923). The Faculty of Social Sciences of Yaroslavl State University “as represented by its Law Department” was liquidated.
Yaroslavl University was still in the system of the People’s Commissariat for Education and was subordinate to the Republic. However, on July 17, 1923, the Council of People’s Commissars issued a directive, order №457 announced at the People’s Commissariat for Education, which stopped financing the University from the republican budget, suggesting to fund the University locally. In August 1924, the Medicine Faculty was closed and the Teachers’ Training Faculty again became the Teachers’ Training Institute by Decree №680 of the Council of People’s Commissars. But earlier the University was denied local funding. The decision about stopping the financing of Yaroslavl State University was taken at the “Maly Presidium” session of the Yaroslavl Province Executive Committee of the Council of Workers, Peasants and the Red Army’s Deputies (p.3, Protocol №26, May 3, 1924). Paragraph 3 states: “1) In view of the local budget deficit, causing the cutbacks on all the institutions of the Yaroslavl Province… to consider it impossible to fund Yaroslavl State University by the Yaroslavl Province Executive Committee and stop allocating the funds on July 15 of this year. 2) As the University is funded locally and stopping allocation of funds is subsequently equal to practically closing the University, to suggest the Province Finance Department negotiating with the University Direction the amount of the money necessary to liquidate the latter…”.
Although there were no federal documents about the closing, Yaroslavl State University had to stop its activity for lack of financing in autumn 1924.