This volume, titled the The Gustian Sociologists in the Interwar University, constitutes the first collection of studies pertaining to the activity of the Bucharest Sociological School within the framework of the University of Bucharest. As Zoltan Rostas points out in the introductory chapter, the activity of Professor Dimitrie Gusti and of the Sociological School founded by him in Romania’s capital is not very well known. This is certainly the case with Professor Gusti’s work in the institutional context of the University of Bucharest, which has hitherto not been evaluated. To be sure, the importance of the Seminar in Sociology, Ethics, and Politics, founded by Gusti as part of his professorship at the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy, has been mentioned before. As early as the 1920s , this seminar had become a research workshop. Subsequently, it also became a unique documentation site for sociological monography. In fact, however, this frame was meant to facilitate the social scientific investigation of village life.
Much less is known about Gusti’s constant preoccupation with university life, and especially for that in Bucharest. The author of the introduction emphasizes that, immediately following his transfer to the University of Bucharest, Professor Gusti participated in a student protest against the intolerable conditions in which they were forced to study. In subsequent years, the protests of the students in Bucharest continued, acquiring an increasingly political tenor. Probably for this reason, Gusti did not implicate himself directly in these protests, but this does not mean that he abandoned the cause of the students. He was endeavoring to find effective solutions for improving the living conditions of the future graduates. After careful research, together with the members of his sociology seminar, Gusti elaborated the „Student Program”, edited „The Student Guide”, and founded the „University Office” and the „Student Cooperative”. For Gusti, however, establishing a firm foundation for student assistance was not the only priority. He was promoting a new mission for the entire university system. His studies and research projects published over decades of activity took into account both the European context and Romania’s needs. In parallel with this advocacy, Gusti continued to innovate university education in sociology, initiating in 1925 the series of summer monographic campaigns that anually focused on a particular village selected from within Romania’s historic regions. The results of these systematic sociological investigations materialized not only in numerous social-scientific works, but above all in the formation of a original sociological school. This school gave the Bucharest university modern educators, with a different habitus and valuable scientific accomplishments to their name. Among them were Anton Golopenţia, Traian Herseni, Henri H. Stahl, Constantin Vlădescu-Răcoasa and Mircea Vulcănescu. With this relatively small team, Gusti was able to mentor and train hundreds of intellectuals whose accomplishments in the domains of research, diplomacy, or cultural work and aministration, reflected honor upon the Gustian School and the University. After his terms as Dean of the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy (1929-1932) and as Minister of Instruction, Cults, and Arts (1932-1933), which he served during the most diffcult years of the interwar years, namely those of the world economic crisis, Gusti commenced a new and ample mission for Bucharest university students. This initiative unfolded under the aegis of the Royal Cultural Foundations „Prince Carol”, and involved the formation and training of multidisciplinary teams of students and recent graduates for undertaking something entirely new compared to the traditional cultural work of organizing conferences and disseminating new knowledge. This innovation consisted of complex social interventions in the form of social work. Concommitently, research work continued to be pursued in the Sociology Seminar, acquiring even greater momentum when the decision was made to organize the International Congress of Sociology under Gusti’s presidency. The advent of the royal dictatorship in 1938 did not slow down the momentum of the monographic project or that of the royal student teams. Moreover, the promulgation of the Social Service Law, elaborated by the Gustian School, provided a propitious organizational and financial framework for accelerating the organization of the International Congress and of the materials with which the University of Bucharest sociologists planned to participate. This law, laying the groundwork for this specific institution (i.e. The Social Service), broadened student involvement in rural work, rendering it mandatory. During the same period, Gusti initiated the Encyclopedia of Romania project, a thematically original work that involved both the Gustian School and the University of Bucharest. Due to the outbreak of war in 1939, some projects were only partially accomplished. The activity of the Gustian sociologists at the university and in other institutions continued, albeit with reduced resources throughout the duration of World War II.
In his study, „An Incursion into the Social History of Interwar Univesity Life. Between Student Revolution and Social Activism”, Ionuţ Butoi analyzes the conditions of student life in two organizations that played an active role on behalf of the student cause: UNSCR (The National Union of Christian Students) and ASCR (The Christian Romanian Students Association). While the UNSCR became the leading interwar student organization, opting for a radical-revolutionary path that in time became the crucible out of which which the Legionary Movement emerged and manifested itself, ASCR was a small Bucharest organization that, alongside Gusti, participated in elaborating the first systematic solution to the systemic crises that convulsed the interwar university system. The author examines the problem through the lens of the “perverse effects” produced by the educational policies elaborated by the interwar elite, contrasting the elite’s stated goals with the concrete results obtained. In this way, Butoi aims to identify the ways in which the educational policies of Greater Romania’s governing elite generated a modernizing current that not only nurtured and trained the elites necessary to consolidate the new state, but also threw the young interwar generation into genuine state of crisis, thereby radicalizing it. This goes a long way towards explaining why the vast majority of the Romanian student movement transformed itself into one of a revolutionary type. In interwar Greater Romania, the great promise of “uplifting the country”, especially by forming elites hailing from the previously underprivileged strata the peasantry, became the great disappointment that led to the transformation of the universities into hotbeds of revolutionary activity and contestation of the social and political status quo. In this exploratory undertaking, the author attempts to acquire as realistic a picture as possible of the state of interwar higher education using social history methods: utilizing archival documents, statistical data, reports on student congresses etc. He likewise examines the Yearbooks of the principal interwar Romanian university centers, namely the Universities of Bucharest, Cluj, Iaşi, and Cernăuţi. The Yearbooks contain valuable statistics about the number of students, evidence about the material conditions in which courses took place, as well as information about student associations, including the disturbances created by certain radical currents within them. Another important source are the dossiers available at CNSAS (The National Council for the Study of the Securitate Archives) concerning interwar student congresses. If the Yearbooks document the viewpoint of university officials, the CNSAS dossiers convey the atmosphere, the issues discussed by interwar students and their interventions on these topics, thereby offering testimony regarding the mood and state of mind of the students. Student unrest during the 1920 was related to tensions that went beyond the limits of university life, revealing structural crises in Greater Romania’s social model. The issue of the university youth constituted one of these very crises, threatening the Romanian establishment precisely because the student youth had become both a factor and a pool for political mobilization and social change. Consequently, the professors who had impact upon the students, finding amongst them a medium for reproducing their individual message (or agenda), acquired a significant ability to influence public opinion and even that of politicians. In fact, the relationship was reciprocal: the young people were looking for „allies” among the symbolic or actual authorities, allies that would facilitate the success of their collective action. On their part, the professors sought means by which to concretize their ideas, their programme. The University of Bucharest, though not the epicenter of student unrest (as the most serious incidents were recorded in Cluj, Iași or Oradea) was a milieu conducive to the development of currents, ideas and actions which came to dominate cultural and social life in interwar years – perhaps precisely because of stricter surveillance on the part of the authorities. Thus, the current of the „Young Generation” of later interwar years (which was, in essence, a Bucharest phenomenon) draws its roots from the student organizations who discovered and venerated Nae Ionescu as early as the first half of the 1920s. The same organization, namely ASCR, made a decisive contribution to the first systematic efforts of reforming the University and its goals by co-operating with Gusti.
While Butoi primarily deals with the state of student population in the 1920s, Dragoș Sdrobiș tackles the issue of students’ social work in the final years of Greater Romania, focusing on Gustian solutions, at first in the form of teams of volunteers and later as a mandatory practice instituted by the Social Service Law. Titled „La Boheme Abandoned, Utopia Incarnate: Interwar Students, Dimitrie Gusti and the Mandatory Social Service”, the study details how, through these measures, Gusti sought to articulate a set of solutions for Romanian society’s two major structural crises of the period in question: „intellectual unemployment” among university graduates and the „uplifting of the village”, understood as improving social conditions of life in rural areas. Sdrobiş makes plain Gusti’s structuralist perspective on the Social University as a „system of structural relationships”, encompassing both that between University, State and Society, as well as the relationships between professors and students, amongst students themselves and, not least, the relationship between students and university authorities. As such, the social university would embody a specifically modern organizational model, rendering ever more visible the interaction between individual and society. Gusti made no secret of the fact that social university would be compelled to become „the University of the People”, and that „collective fieldwork would form the leadership cadres of both State and Society”. This particular statement is one of the first to put forth the idea of student social service. The university, according to Gusti’s conception, was to be called forth to contribute to the communal development of the Romanian village, but with the financial support of the state. This vision concerning the social university and the social service in the countryside was also presented to delegates at the Inter-University Council of Balkan States in Sofia, in 1932. From the very outset, the speech made clear that „Romanian universities cannot afford to forget that they are at the apex of the educational system of an agrarian country”, and that „the Romania student had no need to evolve his views, less so be influenced from without in order to discover the peasant. In most cases, he himself was of rural stock, swept up by a process of urbanization which made it impossible for him to forget his origins”. The influx of village youth towards university centers represented for Gusti a first, „romantic”, stage of a rural social service in Romania. Thus, the social service had to be entrusted to those in a position to have unmediated contact with the village by virtue of their descent and because of their ability to transform it. At the same time, the student would put himself in the service of a state that belonged to all, a state in which students would collectively become „the most important body of the nation”. What all of this would entail effectively amounted to a new social contract between the state and its most numerous citizens, the peasants, kick-starting an authentic community development process. As for social action in a stricter sense, the royal student teams were to be organized of such a manner as to respond to the needs of the village in its totality. For example, cultivating public health required medical and physical education students; improving work culture demanded students in agronomy, veterinary medicine and trained female household managers; for the betterment of mind and soul, students of theology, sociology, letters and music. Aside from the input of the students, each team required a number of technicians, comprising a medical doctor, an agronomic engineer, a forestry engineer, and a veterinary doctor.
By contrast, the Social Service was justified by Gusti on the grounds that young Romania intellectuals „are not called upon to perform manual labor, but intellectual work. Our goal is not to create a civil political army, but only to empower the villages through the descent of the intellectuals.” The Social Service campaign of 1939 was the high point for the monographic research of the Romanian village, with 128 teams simultaneously at work in 128 villages in 51 counties. Dragoș Sdrobiș places the Gustian programme of University reform and student social action in the villages within the larger political context of Greater Romania, as well as in line with a concern for the role of the intellectual in society.
On the other hand, Theodora Eliza Văcărescu examines an issue that has previously received even less attention than the ones described above. In „Women’s Education in Romania and the Provinces Inhabited by the Romanians, 1880-1930. A Case Study”, the author focuses on women’s education, particularly in interwar universities. Commencing with a detailed introduction to this problematic, Văcărescu shows that, although institutions of higher learning had emerged in Moldova and Wallachia by beginning of the 19th century and had transformed into universities after 1860, many young people opted to pursue higher education in Western Europe. The number of women from wealthy families pursuing higher education abroad, either in the form of secondary/high school or university courses of study, was significantly lower than that of their male counterparts. After 1900, the number of women who enrolled at universities grew constantly. At the University of Bucharest, in the years 1901-1905 women represented 7.4 % of enrolled students. This percentage grew to 9.6% between 1906-1910, while the period from 1911-1915 saw their numbers rise to 15% of the student population. Between 1921 and 1930, the overall number of women university students rose by over 13%, although it declined slightly during the 1930-1931 academic year. It must also be noted that, during the period from 1921-1931, the number of female students increased to a greater extent than that of male students, the former tripling while latter only increased by 40 % from approximately 15,000 to 22,000. By the middle 1930s, the number of male students enrolled in special schools (i.e. social work, archival education etc.) had slightly increased, while the number of female students had experienced a small decline. The study was also able to assemble more comprehensive data concerning male and female students enrolled in the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy at the University of Bucharest. This is because, under Gusti’s guidance, in 1930 the Sociology Seminar undertook a sociological investigation of the faculty’s student body. The administered questionnaires included questions pertaining to both personal and university life. The items of interest included: social background, income, nutrition, living conditions, marital status, professional aspirations, study habits, research activities, political and religious affiliation, friendship groups etc. However, Roman Cresin – one of the most respected statisticians affiliated with the Gustian School – published and analyzed only a portion of the data gathered by means of the questionnaires. His 1936 study nonetheless proved extremely useful, especially when considering that many of the faculty’s women students and graduates participated in the monographic campaigns of the 1920s and 1930s. On the basis of Cresin’s study, it is possible to explicate women’s demographic weight at the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy, as well as the social origins of male and female students. In turn, this explains the dynamic of participation in the educational process along the differential axes of gender and class. Differences in the residential situations, course attendance, and study habits of male and female students can likewise be explained on this basis. Although many hypotheses were confirmed by this research initiated by Gusti, what came as a surprise was the nearly equal percentage of men and women enrolled at the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy who expressed a desire to continue their studies abroad. This showed the nearly equal desire of men and women to broaden their education. However, Văcărescu emphasizes that women’s access to education, their right to pursue careers in various fields, and generally speaking their increased visibility in the public sphere did not occur „by itself”, as a gift from male legislators, or because of a „natural” social transformation. Rather, it was the result of intense activity on the part of individual women (and some men), as well as women’s and feminist organizations – all of whom were actively involved in the process of emancipation.