As part of the celebrations of its 104th anniversary, a festive event was held in the auditorium of the Faculty of Law on Tuesday 24 January to commemorate the University’s rich history. “Masaryk University’s long journey through the 20th century is a great story. It went from humble and uncertain beginnings after the Great War in the newly established Czechoslovak Republic to a world-renowned and prestigious institution, which now comprises ten faculties and two university institutes,” said Martin Bareš, Rector of Masaryk University, at the ceremony. He also paid tribute to Karel Engliš, the first person to have ever served as rector of Masaryk University. After a commemoration of his life and the official launch of his Memoirs, the new name of the great university hall at the Faculty of Law was unveiled: it will now be known as Karel Engliš Auditorium.
History of Masaryk University
Initiatives to establish a university in Brno date back to the 1870s, long before the establishment of independent Czechoslovakia. At the time, the second Czech university was meant as a manifestation of the Czech national movement within Austria-Hungary. One of the main proponents of this initiative was Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, who in 1891 first sponsored a bill in the House of Deputies providing for the establishment of a second Czech university, which was to be seated in Moravia. However, this had to wait until after the establishment of Czechoslovakia. On 28 January 1919, the university was officially founded by Act of the National Assembly No. 50, which was one of the first laws ever adopted in the newly established country.
It was named after Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, Czechoslovakia’s first president and founding father, while Karel Engliš, an economist who also contributed significantly to the founding of the university, became its first rector. The ceremonial opening of the university took place on 11 November 1919 in the provisional auditorium of the Brno bishopric’s alumneum. The first lectures followed the day after for students of the faculties of medicine and law. The original plan for the new university also included the faculties of science and arts, which welcomed their first students in the following years.
World War II and the communist era
The year 1939 marked the beginning of a very difficult time for Masaryk University and the whole country. On 17 November, the Nazi occupation regime closed the university for six long years. The damage and losses the university suffered during the occupation were immeasurable. The list of professors executed and tortured to death is so vast that the Faculty of Science alone lost nearly a quarter of its staff during the war.
After the liberation of Czechoslovakia, the university embarked on a gradual reconstruction and in 1946 added another faculty – the Faculty of Education. Unfortunately, the communist coup in February 1948 put the brakes on all further development efforts. The Faculty of Education was split from the university and political purges on campus followed. These mainly affected students and professors at the Faculty of Law, which culminated in its complete dissolution in 1950. The faculty’s building was handed over to the Military Academy, which continued using it until 1989.
In 1952, the field of pharmacy was separated from the Faculty of Science into an independent faculty housed in the building on Joštova street that is now used by students of the Faculty of Social Studies. However, the Faculty of Pharmacy was dissolved in 1960 by the government’s decree and the studies were transferred to Comenius University in Bratislava. In the same year, Masaryk University lost its name and was referred to as Jan Evangelista Purkyně University in Brno until 1989.
Growth after the Velvet Revolution
The university had to wait until after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 to start developing and establishing new faculties. Right at the beginning of the 1990s, the Faculty of Economics and Administration was founded, followed a few years later by the Faculty of Informatics. The Faculty of Social Studies split off from the Faculty of Arts, and then the Faculty of Sports Studies was created on the basis of pedagogical subjects.
The university entered the new century by focusing on the development and renovation of its buildings. Its flagship project is the Bohunice University Campus, the largest construction project conducted by a higher education institution in Central Europe. Construction began in 2004 and the Bohunice campus was inaugurated on 23 September 2010.
In the past decade, the university has grown to include the Scala University Cinema, the Central European Institute of Technology (CEITEC) and the Faculty of Pharmacy, which re-joined Masaryk University in 2020.
MU in 2022
Last year brought many problems and challenges to Masaryk University. In February, Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, to which Masaryk University had to respond immediately. Through the MUNI HELPS Volunteer Centre, it began providing assistance to Ukrainian students, staff and their families. It also organised fundraising for educational and humanitarian purposes, to which nearly CZK 1.3 million was donated by over 800 contributors. In mid-April, it launched a special admission procedure for Ukrainian students. A total of 479 of them were successfully admitted to study. Almost a hundred Ukrainian workers found a safe haven and meaningful occupation at MU. Masaryk University continues to support Ukraine.
Last year, MU also launched its comprehensive sustainability drive, whereby it tries to lead by example to ensure the responsible use of water and energy and the handling of waste. It has launched a new website at sustain.muni.cz where it provides information and shares sustainability-related news. These efforts have become even more important in the context of the war in Ukraine and the ensuing energy crisis in Europe. Consequently, MU launched the #MUNISAVES campaign in autumn and prepared the Ten Principles for Saving Energy to inspire students, staff and others to conserve energy.
In 2022, the university also participated in several important events. In summer, it co-hosted the celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Gregor Johann Mendel, the founder of genetics. The event included the Mendel Festival and the Mendel Genetics Conference in Brno that was attended by three Nobel Prize winners. In the autumn, MU hosted the prestigious International Conference on Research Infrastructures (ICRI 2022) which once again brought leading world scientists to Brno.
Today, Masaryk University is one of the most important educational and scientific institutions in the Czech Republic. It comprises ten faculties with over 200 departments, institutes and clinics and is attended by approximately 33 000 full-time students. With more than six thousand employees, Masaryk University is also one of the largest employers in the South Moravian Region. It operates with an annual budget of CZK 9.5 billion.