The University of Calcutta, established on January 24 in1857, is the first educational institution in Asia to be established as a secular and multidisciplinary Western-style university. Prior to its inception, Dr. Fredrick John, the then education secretary to the then British Government in India, proposed to the British Government in London for the establishment of a university in Calcutta, which was not materialized. But later, a proposal to establish two universities, one in Calcutta and the other in Bombay was accepted in 1854. Accordingly, the Calcutta University Act came into force on 24 January 1857 and a 41-member senate was formed as the policy making body of the university. The University of Calcutta, also known as Calcutta University, is the first public university in India and also in South Asia, which covered a large area from Lahore to Rangoon (Myanmar) and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Charles John Canning, better known as Lord Canning, the then Governor General of India, was the first Chancellor of the University, while Sir James William Colvile, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, was named the Vice-Chancellor.
The Syndicate of the University started functioning on 30 January 1858 and since it did not have any office of its own till then, the first meeting of the Senate took place in the Council room of the Calcutta Medical College. Gradually, the office of the university temporarily started working in a few rented rooms in Camac Street, though even several years after that, the meetings of the Senate and Syndicate were arranged in a room in the Writers’ Building. The first school leaving examination, known as Entrance Examination in those days, was held under the university in March 1857 in the Town Hall with 244 examinees. The old records indicate, Joddu Nath Bose and Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay became the first graduates of the university in 1858.
The Senate decided to construct a building for the university in 1862 and the responsibility of designing the building was entrusted to Walter B. Granville, who was a leading Victorian architect and was the architect of the Calcutta High Court, General Post Office and St. James Church. The classical styled Senate House building was constructed at a cost of 252,221 Rupees, which was formally inaugurated on the convocation day of the university on 12 March 1873. The graceful building with its tall Corinthian pillars was so dignified that its picture can be found even today in many books on history, architecture and even education. With its palatial portico and majestic pillars, the building resembled an ancient Grecian or Roman temple. It was used for Senate meetings, housed the official chamber of the Vice-Chancellor, offices of the Registrar and also used as examination and lecture halls.
Apart from that, the first edition of the All Bengal Music conference was held in the Senate House on 27th December 1934 and in the same year it was proposed to establish an art gallery and a museum in the building, in connection with post-graduate studies in Ancient Indian History and Culture. As proposed, the Asutosh Museum of Indian Art was opened in 1937, in the West Hall of the Senate House. In fact, since the inaugural, The Senate House remained as the most visible symbol of the University of Calcutta and one of the distinguished landmarks of the city of palaces, until the beautiful building was brutally demolished in 1960, without any second thought. Subsequently, the Centenary Building was built on the spot, which now houses the Centenary Auditorium, Ashutosh Museum, the Central Library and different offices of the University.
Soon it became clear that, the Senate House was not sufficient enough to accommodate the growing number of students of the University and as the space problem became quite chaotic after 1904, when the responsibility of postgraduate teaching and research were also vested in the University. Finding no other way, the University started to appeal to the public, to private benefactors, beginning from as early as 1863, for generous donation for the purpose of construction of a new building for the University. It became fruitful, as Premchand Roychand of Bombay sent a donation of Rs 200000/ in 1865 in response to the appeals. Apart from that, substantial endowments received from Prosunno Coomar Tagore in 1868 and Joykissen Mookerjee of Uttarpara in 1869, eventually proved to be the stepping stone towards the erection of the University Law College and the University Library.
Later, in1908, Maharaja Rameshwar Singh of Dwarbhanga generously donated a huge sum of Rs 250000/ to the University for the purpose of construction of a building for the University Library. Those bountiful donations, along with the Reserve Fund of the University and funds contributed by the Government of India, helped the authority to build the Dwarbhanga Building. When completed in 1912, the Dwarbhanga Building accommodated the Law College of the University, its library and some of the University offices. Apart from that, the top floor of the building had ample space to hold the University examinations. However, at present that space is occupied by University offices and some of the academic departments of the University College of Arts and Commerce.
The library of the University started to operate functioning from 1870s. Apart from its 39 departmental libraries, today the University is well equipped with an invaluable Central library, two campus libraries and two libraries of the advanced centers spread across its different campuses.
For the construction of a new building for the teaching departments of the University, the Government of India granted a sum of 800.000 Rupees in 1912, for the acquisition of a plot of land occupied by Madhab Babu’s Bazar, situated to the south of the Senate House. The new building, inaugurated in 1926 was named after Sir Asutosh Mookherjee, probably the most eminent Vice- Chancellor in the history of Calcutta University.
At present, the University of Calcutta has a total of 14 campuses spread over the length and breadth of the City of Calcutta and its suburbs. Apart from the Central Campus, known as Ashutosh Shiksha Prangan in College Street, the major campuses are in Rajabazar, Ballygunge, Hazra Road and Viharilal College of Home Science Campus in Alipore.