I fear this question may be rather broad and I would like help to narrow it down. Currently a debate is ongoing in Greece regarding the law preventing police from stepping into university campuses. The law was put in place after the fall of the military junta in 1974 which had violently suppressed a student rebellion. Such a protection was meant to safeguard students and freedom of speech. I was reading the New York Times article and the following claim was made at the end:

Odysseas Zoras, the top official of the University of Crete, said both academics and society were ready for an end to an antiquated concept, introduced in Bologna in the 11th century to avert the church’s intervention in academia.

However, I have been unable to find sources related to this claim. The Wikipedia page on the University of Bologna as well as the history page of the actual University don't mention anything in this regard.

Additionally I note that many US universities have their own police forces which this article links with the 1960s protests. Therefore what I would like to ask is this:

  1. Is there confirmation of an asylum law in place in the University of Bologna and what was its scope?
  2. Were there other instances throughout the history of universities were similar laws were put in place and if yes when/why were they abolished?
  3. Why do universities prefer to have their own police force?
  • 2
    "Why do universities prefer to have their own police force?" Tbat's very jurisdiction-dependent. There's no such thing as this in the UK, for example. Aug 22, 2019 at 22:43
  • 1
    @DavidRicherby In the Netherlands neither, but there's plenty of countries where it happens. Always wondered what the histo-cultural backgrond on that was.
    – Mast
    Aug 23, 2019 at 10:35

2 Answers 2


This goes back to Frederick Barbarossa. He granted the university the so called scholar's privilege the privilegium scholasticum or authentica habita in 1150s. Full universities had to be granted papal or princely privileges to be founded but from 1150s on they had judicial autonomy. It was the result of active and collective defiance of students and professors against infringements and incursions. As Bologna was the blueprint for all European Universities, this was a guiding principle for all of them. Per the will of Barabrossa it also found entry into the Corpus iuris civilis and was later confirmed by pope Alexander III or the French king in 1200. Later re-affirmations were necessary. Like the papal bull Parens scientiarum in 1231 or when the students in Oxford went on strike after the Saint scholastica riots.

Authentica habita

Authentica habita, or Privilegium Scholasticum, was a document written in 1155 ca. by the Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa. In it, he set out for the first time some of the rules, rights and privileges of Universities. It is a key founding document in the history of the medieval university in Europe.

Scholars from all over Europe had begun to travel to Bologna to study civil and canon law, and newly rediscovered works of Roman law, from the mid-11th century. As foreigners there, they found themselves without legal protection. A particular difficulty was the practice of the Right of Reprisal, where their property could be seized on foot of debts incurred by their countrymen.

The document grants several rights and protections to scholars including:

  • Similar immunities and freedoms as those held by the clergy, provided they conformed to certain attributes, such as clerical dress;
  • Freedom of movement and travel for the purposes of study;
  • Immunity from the right of reprisal; and
  • The right to be tried by their masters, or the Bishops court, rather than local civil courts.

The document was subsequently confirmed by Pope Alexander III. The Emperor incorporated the document into Justinian’s Codex, the extant body of Roman law, indicating its significance.

More on this Pearl Kibre: "Scholarly privileges in the Middle Ages; the rights, privileges, and immunities of scholars and universities at Bologna, Padua, Paris, and Oxford", Cambridge, 1962.

Going back to the subquestions:

  1. This is much more than just a 'right to asylum'. It is a quite extensive set of rights and privileges that come with legal autonomy.

  2. Throughout the middle ages European universities had these rights and should they come under fire – which they did almost regularly – they rigorously defended their rights. But almost needless to say, as the question already states that they were 're-instated in Greece', together with the advent of modern states in early modern times the privileges were under constant erosion. Today, only remnants of this Academic freedom remain. And those are still under constant attack.

  3. European universities in general do not prefer to keep their own police force. They typically do not have anything like a police force, at most only a small (private) security force, turning of the lights or keeping watch. American campus police is a whole different story.

As an illustration for how far reaching this legal autonomy was, a few highlights that show that unlike Islamic palace schools (PDF) punishments stopped short before death penalty, but were certainly sometimes bizarre in the eyes of modern readers. Killing a person in the street seems to have been punished in any case, but much less sever if you were a student. A student on the other hand that allowed himself being caught talking English – of all causes…:

In the universities of Southern France, the marriage of resident doctors and students was also contemplated, and the statutes of the University of Aix contain a table of charges payable as "charivari" by a rector, a doctor, a licentiate, a bachelor, a student, and a bedel. In each case the amount payable for marrying a widow was double the ordinary fee. If the bridegroom declined to pay, the "dominus promoter," accompanied by "dominis studentibus," was, by permission of the Rector, to go to his house armed with frying-pans, bassoons, and horns, and to make a great tumult, without, however, doing any injury to his neighbours. Continued recusancy was to be punished by placing filth outside the culprit's door on feast-days. […]

For contumacy, for grave moral offences, for crimes of violence, and for heresy, the penalty was expulsion. Less serious offences were punished by subtraction of "commons" i.e. deprivation of allowances for a day or a week (or longer), or by pecuniary fines. When College founders provided clothes as well as board and lodging for their scholars, the forfeiture of a robe took its place among the penalties with which offenders were threatened. The "poor boys" who sang in Chapel and waited on the Fellows were whipped like boys elsewhere, who were being taught grammar, but the birch was unknown as a punishment for undergraduates till late in the middle ages.

The introduction of corporal punishment into college life in England may be traced by a comparison of William of Wykeham's statutes with those of Henry VI. The King's College statute "De correctionibus faciendis circa delicta leviora" is largely a transcript of a New College statute, with the same title, and both contemplate subtraction of commons as the regular penalty. But the King's College statute contains an additional clause, to the effect that scholars and younger Fellows may be punished with stripes. In the statutes of Magdalen, dated some seventeen years later, William of Waynflete returned to the New College form of the statute, but he provided that his demys (i.e. scholars who received half the commons of a Fellow) should be subject to the penalty of whipping in the Grammar School.

The statutes of Christ's College prescribe a fine of a farthing for unpunctuality on the part of the scholars studying in the Faculty of Arts, and heavier fines for absence, and it is added that if the offender be not an adult, a whipping is to be substituted for the pecuniary penalty. At Brasenose, where the Fellows were all of the standing of at least a Bachelor of Arts, the undergraduate scholars were subjected to an unusually strict discipline, and offenders were to be punished either by fines or by the rod, the Principal deciding the appropriate punishment in each case.

For unpunctuality, for negligence and idleness, for playing, laughing, talking, making a noise or speaking English in a lecture-room, for insulting fellow- students, or for disobedience to his pastors and masters, the Brasenose undergraduate was to be promptly flogged. Among the crimes for which the birch is ordered we find " making odious comparisons," a phrase which throws some light on the conversational subjects of sixteenth-century undergraduates. The kind of comparison is indicated in the statute; remarks about the country, the family, the manners, the studies, and the ability, or the person, of a fellow-student must be avoided.

Similarly, at Jesus College, Cambridge, it is forbidden to compare country to country, race to race, or science to science, and William of Wykeham and other founders had to make similar injunctions. The medieval student was distinctly quarrelsome, and such records as the famous Merton "scrutiny" of 1339, and investigations by College Visitors, show that the seniors set the undergraduates a bad example. The statutes of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, provide for two new penalties. An offending undergraduate might be sentenced to feed by himself, at a small table in the middle of the Hall, and in aggravated cases to the monastic penalty of bread and water. An alternative penalty was detention in the library at the most inconvenient time ("per horam vel horas cum minime vellet"), and the performance of an imposition to be shown up in due course. The rough and ready penalty of the birch is, however, frequently mentioned in the statutes of Corpus and of other sixteenth-century Colleges. Cardinal Wolsey thought it proper that an undergraduate should be whipped until he had completed his twentieth year. At Trinity, Cambridge (where offenders were sociably flogged before the assembled College on Friday evenings) the age was eighteen. Dr Caius restricted the rod to scholars who were not adult. "We call those adults," he says, "who have completed their eighteenth year. For before that age, both in ancient times and in our own memory, youth was not accustomed to wear braccas, being content with tibialia reaching to the knees." The stern disciplinarian might find an excuse for prolonging the whipping age in the Founder's wish that, "years alone should not make an adult, but along with years, gravity of deportment and good character."

The leniency of the punishments for grave moral offences, as contrasted with the strict insistance upon the lesser matters of the law, cannot fail to impress modern readers, but this is not a characteristic peculiar to Leipsic. Fines, and in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, whippings were frequently inflicted in all universities for violent attacks upon the person. Dr Rashdall quotes a case at Ingolstadt where a student who had killed another in a drunken bout was let off with the confiscation of his goods, and the penalty of expulsion was remitted ; and the eighteenth-century history of Corpus Christi College at Oxford supplies more recent instances of punish- ments which could scarcely be said to fit the crime. The statutes of the French universities outside Paris and of the three medieval Scottish universities (St Andrews, Glasgow, and Aberdeen) supply many illustrations of the regulations we have noted elsewhere, but contain little that is unusual. St Andrews, which allowed hawking, forbade the dangerous game of football. The Faculty of Arts at Glasgow in 1532 issued an edict which has a curious resemblance to the Eton custom of "shirking." Reverence and filial fear were so important, said the masters, that no student was to meet the Rector, the Dean, or one of the Regents openly in the streets, by day or by night; immediately he was observed he must slink away and escape as best he could, and he must not be found again in the streets without special leave. The penalty was a public, flogging. Similarly, even a lawful game must not be played in the presence of a regent. Flogging was a recognised penalty in all the Scottish universities; it found its way into the system at St Andrews and Glasgow, and was introduced at once at Aberdeen. …
–– Robert S. Rait: "Life in the Medieval University", Cambridge Manuals of Science and Literature, Cambridge University Press: London, 1912. (Luckily, old enough to be on archive.org in full)

Some concrete incidents for this play of power games:

The excommunication of King John by Innocent III in March 1208 caused the first diaspora of the 'clerks' of Oxford, who feared reprisals by the king. In the following year a murder committed by a scholar led the authorities to arrest some of his colleagues. Two or perhaps three students were condemned to death with royal approval. The result was an exodus of masters, followed by their pupils, in protest against the violation of the benefit of clergy (privilegium /on). Only five years later, in 1214, the rules made by the Cardinal Legate Nicolaus de Romanis restored the studium to life; he ordered that scholars arrested by the secular authorities should be handed over to the bishop of Lincoln, or to the archdeacon or the chancellor of the chapter; and he made these authorities responsible for administering the compulsory payment extracted from the citizens of Oxford in aid of poor students. The legate also confirmed the system then current of fixing rents in the hospitia, to ensure compliance with the regulations made by Lucius III to prohibit competition, basing their amount on the valuations agreed by scholars and citizens jointly prior to 1209; a committee of four masters and four citizens was appointed to settle cases in which the necessary valuations had not been made.

The troubles in Oxford in the early thirteenth century are a clear example of the difficulties and bitter disputes between a university and secular authorities – especially locally – at a time of crucial importance to the formation and growth of the studia. Similar events elsewhere were settled by closer control of the ecclesiastical authorities. In Paris, for instance, following the murder of several students by a band of Serjeants guided by the prevot, Philip II Augustus was obliged in 1200 to grant the scholars a privilege assuring them that he would prosecute with special rigour any persons doing them harm, and undertaking to allow scholars accused of criminal offences to be tried bythe ecclesiastical authorities.

Meanwhile in Bologna the universitas of scholars was gathering strength and becoming more firmly established, to the alarm of the commune, which feared the growth in its midst of a cosmopolitan body and a jurisdiction parallel to that of its own podestd. In 1211 the city was governed by the podesta Guglielmo da Pusterla, who supported the Emperor Otto IV recently excommunicated by Innocent III. One of the laws enacted by Guglielmo as podesta prohibited the formation of groups whose members swore to lend each other mutual aid and support, other than associations of men of war and artists taking such oaths ad honorem et utilitatem of the commune. The intention was obviously to prevent the formation of scholars' universitates. But in the same year the pope came down firmly on the side of the students, exhorted the people of Bologna to leave the party supporting the emperor, and threatened to excommunicate the city and transfer the studium elsewhere. By this means he succeeded in bringing about a new balance of power in Bologna favouring the party supporting the papacy.

Subsequently, in 1215 or thereabouts, the teachers renounced jurisdiction over lay scholars in criminal cases, and it passed almost entirely to the commune (cases involving clerics remaining under the jurisdiction of the bishop). Although recognizing the existence of the universitas, the commune forbade scholars to associate themselves in sectam vel conspirationem to leave Bologna, and demanded that the rectors, as representatives of the association, should swear never to promote "the transfer of the studium. The scholars reacted strongly, and found that the most effective defence of their libertas was the protection of the church: in the spring of 1217 the new pope Honorius III exhorted the podesta to revoke his order, or not to apply the regulations restricting scholars' freedom of movement, and advised the scholars to resist the demands of the city authorities without using violence, and to leave Bologna rather than give way. Later, in 1220, addressing the people of Bologna, he condemned the laws restricting academic libertas, calling them harmful to the interests of the city; he ordered their repeal and declared the podesta to be released from the oath he had taken on them.

Honorius III showed similar solicitude for the Paris studium. On learning that the bishop of Paris had excommunicated the universitas on the grounds that it had framed its own statutes without the explicit consent of the local ecclesiastical authorities, the pope took the scholars under his protection as his dearly beloved sons (tamquam filios speciales) and ordered the excommunication to be cancelled; but meanwhile he took over direct control of the universitas, and until the dispute was settled issued instructions on the use of the seal, the exercise of jurisdiction by the masters, the appointment of officials to punish misconduct, and participation in funeral rites.

From the fourteenth century on, this latter desire led to a general residence requirement. Around 1410, for example, and again – with royal support – in 1420, Oxford impressed upon all attending the university, even young students of law, the obligation of residence either in the colleges or in the authorized halls. The hope was that this would put a check on the 'chamberdeacons' – students living at large in the town without permission or ties, allegedly sleeping by day and by night leading a shocking life of plunder and murder in the taverns and brothels. The general tenor of such ordinances, which acquired the rank of statutes, can also be found throughout the northern part of the continent – in 1410 in Vienna against the outside students {extra bursas stantes), and in 1452–7 in Paris against the so-called Martinets (swallows). Nowhere, however, were such efforts very successful in practice.

–– Hilde de Ridder-Symoens (Ed): "Universities in the Middle Ages", A History of the University in Europe., Volume 1, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, New York, 1992.


Why do universities prefer to have their own police force?

I can address this a little bit in the United States context.

As you noted, the rise of campus police forces came after campus protests in the 1960s. Many state legislatures passed laws that instructed college administrators to address "disorder," such as this one in New York state from 1969:

The trustees or other governing board of every college chartered by the regents or incorporated by special act of the legislature and which maintains a campus, unless otherwise provided, shall adopt written rules for implementing all policies required pursuant to this article and for the maintenance of public order on college campuses and other college property used for educational purposes and provide a program for the enforcement thereof.

In other words, you've got to have rules for "the maintenance of public order" on your campus, and you have to have some mechanism to enforce them. That makes something resembling a police force a necessity, at least if your college gets beyond a certain size. Not to mention that universities are full of valuable stuff and are often substantially open to the public, so there's a desire for some sort of security presence to keep an eye on university property, whether it involves police officers or non-police guards. And once you're at that point, a police force can offer certain legal advantages: arrest authority; authority to issue citations; ability to enforce trespassing orders for those banned from campus; eligibility for qualified immunity in some cases; etc...

Beyond that, university police forces in the US speak to a contentious element of town-gown relations:

In the US, a rash of disputes between public universities and host cities have developed in regard to the cost and benefits of the town–gown connection. Universities boast that their existence is the backbone of the town economy, while the towns counter with claims that the institution is "robbing" them of tax revenue; but as universities expand their campuses, more land property is removed from local tax rolls.

Policing is a cost (except when treated as a profit center through the issuance of fines, which is something colleges often don't want happening to their students), and residents of the local community may express resentment if they're asked to pay for the campus's police services, especially when the university's facilities themselves are exempt from property taxes. A university police force allows the school to take responsibility for the cost of the ordinary policing of the campus and vicinity, and the rest of the town can feel they're not being burdened with it.

But the biggest reason is control, which is a sort of return to the traditional centuries-old autonomy LangLangC describes. As Vox writes, the actions of outside police forces became unacceptable to many:

In the 1960s, though, local police were increasingly called to campuses to deal with student protests. Those encounters often turned violent.

College presidents began to lobby state legislatures for the right to create their own police departments, where officers would have a constant presence and become part of the campus community rather than being seen as "some kind of invading army" when something went wrong, Sloan said.

(The Kent State shootings are a significant example of this, though campus police are not by any means immune from the same sorts of problems.)

But that autonomous control is particularly helpful to university administration in dealing not with widespread civil unrest, but in routine matters, and the big one is alcohol consumption. Unlike in Europe, some US residential colleges have the unusual position of hosting large numbers of students who cannot legally drink, yet participate in a well-established drinking culture. How to handle this discrepancy? Enter the university police force. As James Toomey writes, it provides a mechanism for everyone to ignore the obvious (he goes on to discuss the problems with this approach when it comes to addressing more serious problems):

The result, then, is a kind of civic compromise: students don’t drink in front of police officers, they don’t tell police officers that they’re about to go drink underage, and police officers don’t make small talk with too many specifics about your Friday night. The problem is that this compromise is sustained by a code of silence, an active avoidance by both groups of talking about something that they both know is, for better or worse, a large part of what is happening in the community.

With a university police force, day-to-day incidents like underage drinking, or sometimes possession of marijuana, by students can be handled according to university policies instead of the criminal courts. This broadly works out to everyone's benefit: students don't face criminal charges; local courts don't have to spend their time caring about these cases; and university administrators can develop policies and sanctions based on their institution's wishes, without needing the cooperation of local officials or changed laws. At some more lenient schools, that means schemes like medical amnesty policies and harm reduction protocols that refer students to substance abuse screening and services at the campus health center instead of more punitive measures. This can also address a town-gown relations problem: the underage drinking can be treated as an on-campus matter (such as by fraternity parties checking student IDs at the door, which keeps local high school students out while permitting underage drinking by the university's own students) that the town can largely ignore.

A university police force gives the school a lot of discretion; they essentially can take a first look at every incident and decide whether to handle it in-house or refer it to local police and prosecutors. Since these rules and their enforcement are under the university's control, it gives administrators substantial autonomy and control to change the rules and enforcement priorities as they see fit.

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