Soon To Be 140

Exactly a year from now, we will celebrate the 140th anniversary of our University. Considering the pace of life today, one year is not much time for preparing such a remarkable event. A successful celebration is not the only goal we would want to achieve as a result of our work this year. It is important that we change our attitude and the way we feel about the place we all work at, which is Imperial Tomsk State University, today known as Tomsk State University, and about its founders, in terms of understanding their true role in the history of the progress of education, science, and culture on a vast territory of Russia. 


It seems that we all know something about the history of the establishment and development of our University. But if we stop wondering, our knowledge will turn into stereotypes that will be far from the real historical events and facts. As for our students, their knowledge of TSU’s history often ends with two dates on the front of the main building. Meanwhile, our specialists, including historians, philologists, and the staff of the Research Library, have carried out a wonderful project. They have created an online repository of scientific publications, articles, and documents on the history of education in Siberia and the events that prefaced the decision to establish the first Siberian university in Tomsk. They showed how the very idea of providing higher education in Siberia was born. There are many amazing facts. Some of them are not well-known even by our fellow colleagues and will be interesting for the students.


Why is it a matter of topical interest today? Because graduates of a classical university are supposed to possess not just certain knowledge but certain values as well. Knowledge become obsolete, but this is not a problem today, as young professionals who have fundamental education and research competencies can master and upgrade it. The situation is different with values. They are based not only on intellect and applied knowledge, but on emotions and feelings as well. The most important among the latter is the sense of pride in the university they have graduated from. If this feeling does not appear and develop during the years at a university, most likely, it will not appear later. Moreover, affection toward a university and satisfaction in being a part of a university’s intellectual corporation are the values that are not born in experience, but in co-experience, with teachers and fellow students.

We have questioned ourselves more than once: Why is it so difficult today to engage graduates in fundraising and other philanthropic activities toward their university? In all civilized countries graduates are members of supervisory boards and endowment foundations. They establish scholarship foundations for students and professors, raise money for construction and repair works, present museums with rare collections, sponsor university events, and so on. Of course, this happens in Russia too and I will talk about it later. But on a totally different scale. Obviously, there are objective reasons, including historical,   for the culture of charity in Russia to leave much to be desired.


There were times in our country when the culture of charity was very strong. Such prominent Russian philanthropists as Pavel Demidov, Alexandre Stroganov, Alexandre Sibiryakov, Zakhariy Tzibulskiy, and many other less wealthy people made it possible for our University to be established, to develop, and to become recognized far beyond the borders of central Russia, even in Western Europe. It is well known that professors of Imperial Tomsk University participated in European research forums   and had publications in the most respected scientific journals. Before the Soviet revolution, the master students’ scholarship from private donors allowed them to have internship at European universities.  We have priceless book collections, art objects, specimens, and minerals at our disposal that were purchased with private money donated by individual donors.

Why do we not have such traditions today, even though we have enough wealthy people? Could it be caused by the fact that we pay more attention to giving knowledge and skills to our students, whereas values remain beyond our everyday attention? The history of the first university in Siberia, from its first days until now, presented in papers, articles, and other publications is the most powerful resource for developing the value attitude of our students toward their university.


In order to make the process of developing such an attitude successful, we ourselves must get familiarized with those papers, articles, and publications. We will be truly surprised by how dramatic the history of our University was and how complicated the issues connected with its establishment were for the founding fathers. Hope for further victories alternated with feelings of despair and frustration from the lack of money and attention to the University from Moscow authorities. The skeptical attitude of the central Russian media did not help either, as they considered the opening and functioning of a “country school” to be a non-practical decision, to say the least. Time proved those who believed in a bright future for our University to be right. They did not waste their time, efforts, and money.

But even when our students face the facts from the history of TSU, they are not capable of realizing the real scale of the charity activity that was the key to establishing the University. For young people today, the amount of 140 thousand rubles is the price of a family trip to Turkey or of an old used car. The donation of 140 thousand rubles from Zakhariy Tzibulskiy in 1870 was almost one third of the initial cost of our University. 

To understand the meaning of that, it is necessary to learn the history and discuss it together with the students. Work with the historical documents helps young people to learn the history of their faculty and major, as well as to create values that relate them to the University and the city of Tomsk as the place of their youth and education.

There are plans to launch an online course on the history of TSU. Its “light” version will be targeted at our first-year students, the extended version will be interesting for new faculty and staff of the University. The course will focus on the most important and interesting information, and will help to develop a certain psychological attitude.  I am planning to participate in the project as one of the story-tellers.


I hope that before the official celebration of the 140th anniversary takes place between the 1st  and the 15th of September of the next year, we will have many less formal but equally meaningful events. There will be open lectures on the history of TSU, joint reading and discussions of the historical documents and publications, book exhibitions, excursions around the university museums and the Botanic Garden, concerts, and, of course, fundraising events that will awake an echo in the hearts of our students, professors, city and regional authorities, and the public.  

The anniversary will be celebrated next year along with the birthday of Tomsk, just as  the whole city and Siberia celebrated on the day the University was founded. Here is a brief version of the text published in the newspaper Siberian Life on July 20, 1903:

“This anniversary gives reason to remember how the idea of establishing the University appeared, who the founding fathers were, and what hopes it brought to the whole community. The University was intended to concentrate the love from the people around and to develop into something all the locals would be proud of.

"The community showed its attitude on August 26, 1880, the day the University was founded. Siberia had never had a holiday like that. Siberians in Saint Petersburg and Irkutsk gathered to congratulate each other on such a great occasion. But it was Tomsk that experienced the most that day. On the eve of the founding, the town was excited. It had been raining non-stop for  a month, but on August 26, the sky was blue and the sun was shining. The town was decorated, flags were raised on the buildings. Crowds moved toward the place where the University would be built at 9 in the morning. There was a pavilion, decorated with pine and asparagus branches. A sacred procession from the Cathedral opened the celebration.


"After the prayer service, there was a speech from local authorities. In the evening, some families celebrated the event. They drank for the future of the University and taught their children to value the meaning of what was happening.

"The next day, all the educated people of Tomsk had an organized lunch. The donation of over 2,000 rubles was made. The money will be spent on the dormitory for the students. The people united, even though at that time there was no press media or even a railway in Tomsk.

"Several significant donations were made afterwards. The community united around the idea. The university would become a part of Tomsk and its community. There was hope that the people of Tomsk would always take care of it and would never turn their back on the greatest place of enlightenment in Siberia.” 

Reading these lines, one can realize how true Sergey Esenin’s words were, when he wrote, “Great things are better seen from a distance”. Today, the year of 1878 is seen as the beginning of the enlightenment epoch in Siberia and the Far East. Our duty is to keep the ball rolling and achieve new goals. And, of course, we should remember all those wonderful people who made it possible!