The University of St Andrews is the oldest university in Scotland, and the third-oldest in the UK—and, thus, in the English-speaking world. The university has an interesting history.
It was founded by a group of Scottish-born Augustinian monks with the academic title of magister (“Master”), who been forced to migrate to the University of Paris after having been drummed out of Oxford and Cambridge by war between England and Scotland. Unfortunately, these events occurred during the Western Schism of the Church, and the Scottish magistri now found themselves on the losing side of a second political struggle—this one between the rival papal courts at Rome and Avignon.
The learned Scotsmen then dreamed up an original way out of their difficulties. They would found a brand-new university—the first one—on their own native soil. They chose St Andrews (northeast of Edinburgh, not far from Dundee) as the site for the new university, both because it was the seat of Scotland’s most important bishopric and because a thriving monastery already existed there.
The magistri began teaching in St Andrews in 1410, but did not obtain official recognition from Pope Benedict XIII (in Avignon) until three years later. In this way, 1413 has come to be considered the date of the official founding of the university.
Over the course of the next several centuries, numerous illustrious names are associated with St Andrews. Among the most significant, we may mention, in the early sixteenth-century,
In the later sixteenth century,
In the seventeenth century,
In the late eighteenth century,
And, in the nineteenth century, the philosopher, James Frederick Ferrier.
In spite of the foregoing very honorable roll call, Samuel Johnson reports that when he visited the university in the latter part of the eighteenth century, he found it to be in a sad state of decline, with fewer than 100 students.
St Andrews’s academic revival began toward the end of the nineteenth century, as a result of the decision taken at that time to expand the hitherto Classics-based curriculum to encompass modern languages and the natural sciences. It was also decided around this time to admit women as students on an equal basis with men. In 1894, Agnes Forbes Blackadder was the first woman to receive a bachelor’s degree from St Andrews.
From the middle of the nineteenth century on, the university began once again to enjoy an international reputation, which was furthered by the election of a galaxy of internationally celebrated individuals to the post of Rector, including:
More recently, one of the most distinguished of St Andrews’s faculty members for over 30 years was the neo-Thomist philosopher John Haldane, a leading light of the new philosophical tendency known as “analytical Thomism.” Haldane also ran the university’s Centre for Ethics, Philosophy and Public Affairs for many years until his departure from St Andrews in 2015.
Among the international roster of distinguished philosophers working at St Andrews today, we may also mention the Brazilian-born logician and historian of medieval logic, Caratina Dutilh Novaẽs.
Turning to the natural sciences, the following professors are particularly noteworthy:
Other famous St Andrews names include the folklorist Andrew Lang; the novelists James A. Michener and Fay Weldon; Forbes magazine founder, B.C. Forbes; and the actors Ian McDiarmid and John Cleese.
Who are University of St Andrews's Most influential alumni?
University of St Andrews's most influential alumni faculty include professors and professionals in the fields of Literature, Education, and Law. University of St Andrews’s most academically influential people include John Knox, Ian Stevenson, and Adam Ferguson.
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