When the question of establishing a university or a law school in Stockholm was raised as early as the 1820s, lawyer Johan Gabriel Richert was quick to champion the cause. Inspired by his father’s fervour for the French Revolution, he levied a broad assault against Sweden’s estate system in the1822 publication  “A Thing or Two about Corporations” (“Ett och Annat om Corporationer”).

Figuring among his criticisms was academic jurisdiction. Sweden’s universities had exclusive adjudicatory powers over their professors and students and their own police force, prison and court to boot . By virtue of its academic jurisdiction, a corporation as mighty as the university had, opined Richert, morphed into a state within the state and been allowed to dominate small townships like Uppsala and Lund. If however the university were sited in the capital, it would be reduced to a tiny corporation in an expansive society and be incorporated into the public realm.

Liberated from the tyranny of books

With a university situated in the capital, students would, freed from the tyranny of books, open their minds to public affairs affecting the citizen. This would be an effective antidote against narrow-mindedness and egoism. Scientific learning should, in Richert’s view, take place as much, if not more, in the world as in the study chamber.

An ardent advocate among the nobility for a university in the capital was Count Erik

Josias Sparre. Especially the practical sciences would, he argued, better blossom in the pulsating capital city than in the ossified universities of the countryside. He pleaded his case at the 1856-57 session of the Riksdag:

“Do you believe that here in Stockholm it would be possible for a professor, semester after semester, year after year, to sit and hold the same old lecture, which the students know all too well, while they sit with the same in written form and follow the professor from cover to cover, to monitor him just in case he might undertake to alter it in some way? I believe that such would not go unchallenged here, but would rather arouse ridicule and indignation. I believe that the professors would be compelled to duly follow progress in the sciences.”

The capital as a hotbed of sensual pleasures

Sparre was dealt a counterblow by, among others, Court of Administrative Appeals judge Carl Printzensköld, who feared that the presence of hundreds of students in the capital city would result in both political unrest and debauchery.  “Vice”, pointed out another participant in the debate, “can in a small town never be as seductive as in a capital city, where the ultimate in sensual pleasures tempts the self-indulgent on a daily basis and seduces the weak”.

After efforts failed to secure parliamentary funding, a private initiative was launched in 1869 to collect money from the public for the benefit of establishing a university college in Stockholm. But collecting the necessary funds proved to be no easy task. Given the meagre outcome, efforts were mainly concentrated on creating a faculty of philosophy.

Sparre tabled the proposal anew at the 1872 session of the Riksdag, this time with the argument that law instruction at the existing universities was abysmal. An institution of legal science in the vicinity of the highest court and legislative authority would, according to Sparre, result in a fruitful interplay between theory and practice. The proposal was however voted down this time too.

In 1888, a meeting was held on private initiative in Lilla Börssalen on the prospects of creating a law faculty in Stockholm. The meeting resulted in a committee which in 1893 forwarded a proposal to the board of directors of Stockholm University College for the establishment of a faculty of law and political science. By enlisting the capital’s many practicing lawyers as instructors, the programme would have a greater focus on practice. Legal scholars would also have more time for research and practitioners would gain awareness of theoretical issues.

Catch 22

For Stockholm University College, the flow of donations threatened to ebb. It became increasingly dependent on annual grants from Stockholm City which later ended in 1894. City Hall declared itself willing to make new grants provided that, among other things, the school obtained permission to award degrees. On 11 March 1904, the university college received such permission for  subjects for which there existed professorships. For the envisaged law and political science faculty, permission to issue a degree was to be determined only after the professorships had been filled.

The Stockholm University College was now ensnarled in a Catch 22. Without permission to issue a degree, there would be no funds from Stockholm City and without financial support from the city, there would be no funds to finance the professorships required to issue degrees. The day was saved however by a donation of 200,000 kronor for the benefit of the law faculty from the late consul-general Johan Wilhelm Smitt.

In 1907, a law faculty was ultimately established in Stockholm. The idea that had inspired the establishment process, that of an open and accessible “citizens’ institution of learning” with close links to the realm of legal practice, informs the activities of the Law Faculty to this day.

The text is a synopsis of the chapter “Monastery or Brothel? – On the Creation of the Stockholm Law Faculty” (“Kloster eller bordell? Om tillkomsten av Stockholms juridiska fakultet”) by Professors Claes Peterson and Marie Sandström in the jubilee book “A Commemorative Volume – The Faculty of Law at 100 years” (“En minnesskrift – Juridiska fakulteten 100 år”).