San Marcos, Main National University of

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An autonomous institution of higher learning in Lima, Peru, that traces its origin to the 16th century.

Early Development. Founded by royal decree issued in Valladolid, Spain, by Charles V in 1551, San Marcos is considered the oldest University in the New World, although this primacy, contested by the University of Mexico, also founded in 1551, has often been an interesting topic of inter-American debate. This is understandable since the establishment of an institution of higher learning in Spanish colonial America usually involved three acts: the sanction of the Church, the granting of a royal charter, and the actual inauguration of studies, any one of which could be considered the founding date. The University of San Marcos bases its claim to priority on the royal decree's date of issuance, May 12, 1551, in comparison with that of Mexico's royal decree, September 21, 1551 [Recopilacion de las Leyes de Indias (Madrid 1756) Ley I, 110].

To reinforce its claim, the university points to a center of learning established in Cuzco in 1548 by Dominicans, whose provincial, Fra Tomás de san martÍn, in 1549 went to Spain to petition the Spanish crown for permission to establish in Lima a similar center of learning to be modeled on the University of Salamanca. Appointed first bishop of Charcas, Spain, Fra Tomás did not return to Peru but sent back the royal cedula to Lima, where the university had opened at the Dominican convent of San Rosario in 1553. Fra Tomás died in 1554 leaving his Dominican confreres to continue the work he had initiated.

The university's early years under Dominican administration were marked by hardship and poverty for want of sufficient financial aid from the viceroy of Peru, the Marqués del Canete, who in 1557 had allotted the university the meager sum of 400 pesos for its upkeep. From 1553 to 1571, known as the monastic period, emphasis was placed on theology, arts, and grammar. The bull of Pius V, issued in July 1571, terminated this period and confirmed the 1553 royal decree that granted the university the same privileges and immunities enjoyed by the University of Salamanca. On December 30 of the same year, however, Philip II ordered the suspension of Dominican control and the secularization of the institution. The viceroy, Don Francisco de toledo, acting on the unusual powers granted him by the king, proceeded to execute the orders, taking immediate steps to elect a lay rector before the king had signed the decree.

Development. Since classes continued to function within the monastery, the change of administration to lay control gave rise to internal strife and unrest, and in 1574 the professors and students withdrew to a new and independent center. That same year saw the establishment of the Faculty of Law and the adoption by vote of the institution's official title: The Royal and Pontifical University of San Marcos of Lima.

From then on the university began a new era of progress, financially assisted by the viceroy, who not only provided funds and created endowments that enabled the institution to establish Faculties of Arts, Theology, Sacred Scripture, Canon Law, and Medicine, and to attract cultured and learned professors to chair them, but also drew up constitutions that remained in force throughout the colonial period until the first years of the republic (1821).

During the colonial period, San Marcos, although a state institution, enjoyed considerable autonomy and carefully guarded its privilege to elect the rector and hold public examinations for the appointment of professors by staff vote to vacant chairs. The university also exerted direct influence on the establishment of other institutions of higher learning in Latin America: the University of Guatemala (1562), founded by a San Marcos alumnus; the College of St. Rose of Lima, which later became the University of Venezuela (1696); the University of Cordoba, Argentina (1613); and St. Francis Xavier of Chuquisaca, Bolivia (1621).

The early years of San Marcos were strongly influenced by the traditional scholasticism; in the late 18th century it fell under the spell of the enlightenment, and in the first decades of the 19th century, stirred by the pervading spirit of freedom, the university allied itself with the movement for independence. On July 30, 1822, shortly after José de San Martín had proclaimed Peru's independence, professors and students at San Marcos pledged their loyalty to the new political regime and on Jan. 18, 1822, received San Martín at the university. A few years later, on June 3, 1826, San Marcos solemnly received Simón Bolívar, the Liberator.

Bibliography: m. v. villarÁn, La universidad de San Marcos: Los orígenes (Lima 1938). d. rubio, ed., La universidad de San Marcos durante la colonización española (Madrid 1933). j. t. lanning, Academic Culture in the Spanish Colonies (New York 1940). International Handbook of Universities, ed. h. m. r. keyes (2d ed. Paris 1962) 484.

[m. b. murphy]

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San Marcos, Main National University of

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