Established on 24 January 1857, Calcutta University is the first institution in Asia to be established as a secular and multidisciplinary Western-style university. After the Calcutta University Act came into force, the Senate was formed with forty one members as the policy making body of the university. The University was established with its parameter covering a large area from Rangoon (now in Myanmar) to Lahore and also Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Governor General Lord Canning was the first Chancellor of the University, while the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Sir James William Colvile, was the Vice-Chancellor.
The Syndicate of the Calcutta University started functioning on 30 January 1858 and the first meeting of the Senate was held in the Council room of the Calcutta Medical College, since it did not have any office of its own till then. After that, the office of the university temporarily started in a few rented rooms in Camac Street. The meetings of the Senate and Syndicate were also held in a room in the Writers’ Building, for several years even afterwards. The old records indicate that the first school leaving examination, known as Entrance Examination, under the university was held in March 1857 in the Town Hall with 244 examinees.
In 1862, a decision was taken by the Senate to construct a building for the university. Accordingly the classical styled Senate House building was constructed at a cost of Rs. 2,52,221/- and was formally inaugurated on the convocation day of the university on 12 March 1873. The beautiful building with tall Corinthian pillars was designed by Walter B. Granville, a leading Victorian architect, who was also the architect of the Calcutta High Court, General Post Office and St. James Church. In fact, the building was so splendid that the picture of the Senate House of Calcutta, with its palatial portico and majestic pillars, can be found even today in many books on history, architecture and even education. It was used for Senate meetings, housed the official chamber of the Vice-Chancellor, offices of the Registrar and also used as examination and lecture halls. Even it was the venue of the first edition of the All Bengal Music conference held on 27th December 1934. In the same year there was a proposal to establish an art gallery and museum in connection with post-graduate studies in Ancient Indian History and Culture. The proposal was materialized in 1937, when the Asutosh Museum of Indian Art was opened in the Western Hall of the Senate House. In fact, since the inaugural, The Senate House remained as the most visible symbol of the University and one of the distinguished landmarks of the city of palaces until the building was brutally demolished in 1960.
It soon became evident that the Senate House was not sufficient enough to meet the perpetually increasing need of the University. The space problem became unmanageable after 1904, when the responsibility of postgraduate teaching and research were vested in the University. To cope with the situation the University started to appeal to the public, to private benefactors from time to time, beginning from as early as 1863, for generous donation for the purpose of construction of a new building for the University. In response to the appeals, Premchand Roychand of Bombay sent a donation of Rs 200000/ in 1865. Substantial endowments were also received from Prosunno Coomar Tagore in 1868 and Joykissen Mookerjee of Uttarpara in 1869, which eventually proved to be the stepping stone towards the erection of the University Law College and the University Library. In 1908, Maharaja Rameshwar Singh of Dwarbhanga was kind enough to donate a huge sum of Rs 250000/ to the University for the purpose of construction of a building for the University Library. These contributory donations and the Reserve Fund of the University, along with funds contributed by the Government of India helped the authority to build the Dwarbhanga Building, which, when completed in 1912, accommodated the Law College of the University, its library and some of the University offices. Apart from that, the top floor of the building had ample space to hold the University examinations. However, at present it is occupied by University offices and some of the academic departments of the University College of Arts and Commerce.
In 1912, the Government of India granted a sum of Rs 800.000/ for the acquisition of Madhab Babu’s Bazar, situated to the south of the Senate House, for the construction of a new building for the teaching departments of the University. The building, when inaugurated in 1926, was named after Sir Asutosh Mookherjee, probably the most eminent Vice- Chancellor in the history of Calcutta University.
The University library started to operate functioning from 1870s. Today, apart from its 39 departmental libraries, it has an invaluable Central library, two campus libraries, and two libraries of the advanced centers spread across the seven campuses.
At present, the university has a total of 14 campuses spread over the length and breadth of the City of Calcutta and its suburbs. Apart from the Central Campus (Ashutosh Shiksha Prangan) in College Street, the major campuses are in Rajabazar, Ballygunge and in Alipore.