University of Santo Domingo, Cradle of knowledge
The University of Santo Domingo was founded on October 28, 1538 by papal bull In Apostolatus Culmine, issued by Pope Paul III, turning it into the first institution of higher education in America.
By having the name of University of Santo Thomas Aquinas, it was not officially recognized by the Kingdom of Spain until 1558. What really this bull did was to concede Universal status to General Study ran by Dominicans in Santo Domingo since 1518.
The Spanish University of Alcalá de Henares was taken as a model for its ideas, like Salamanca, for its organization. However, this institution has not had a continuous running due to political events on the island. Thus, the Haitian occupation made the Dominicans to abandon the colony in 1801 but the Spaniards recovered it in 1815 and the institution opened its doors, but this time having secular and state characteristic. In 1822, the Haitian regime ordered students to enlist in the military, so it is closed again.
During the following years there were various attempts to reopen it and on December 31, 1866 the Professional Institute was created replacing the university. On November 16, 1914 the President of the Republic, Ramon Baez, by decree, turned the institute into the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo.
The dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo used the institution as an instrument of control and political propaganda. In December 1961, the university achieved its own autonomy.
Some historians refer to the existence of two universities during the colonial era: Santo Tomás Aquinas and Santiago de la Paz. They point out that the College Santiago de la Paz, built thanks to the donation of Hernán Gorjón, received from King Philip II a royal charter, on February 23, 1558, which was used for the University of Santiago de la Paz’s foundation that became a seminar in 1602.
Meanwhile, the first references we have of the University of Santo Tomas date from 1632. The Dominicans defend that it is the first on the island by referring to the papal bull in 1538 and the royal charter of Philip II that was given to the University of Santiago de la Paz, which is a seminar today. Later, in 1747 Fernando VI granted royal charters to both institutions: one ratifying Santiago de la Paz (that didn’t receive the bull until next year) and one for Santo Tomás.
For these historians, the University of Santiago de la Paz is, chronologically speaking, the oldest in the city of Santo Domingo until its extinction in 1767 when the Jesuits were expelled, while Santo Tomás remained.
But there is another polemic with the National University of San Marcos in Lima (Peru), which claims to be the oldest institution of America because it was the first created by order of the Spanish Crown in 1551 (Santo Tomás didn’t receive an offi cial recognition until 1558). Also it argues that it is the only one that has worked without any discontinuity since its inauguration. It also relies on the General Archive of the Indies that doesn’t register any official documents previous to 1551 appointed a pre-San Marcos institution.
Today, the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo has a headquarters, venues and centers across the country. Its educational model is based on teaching, research and extension. A visit to the university area is always very interesting and its history and secrets hidden in the walls will undoubtedly catch us.