This article analyzes the relationship between the government and russian universities at the turn of the pivotal era of 1870s–1880s. The author examines the main activities in the government policy with regard to the “university issue” through the prism of the events that took place in st. Petersburg university. The article shows that the professorial corporations were not ready to act as a an instrument of government control because not only it contradicted their political position, but also their ideas of the “ideal of the university”. This situation was especially brightly reflected during the crisis at the turn of 1870s–1880s. The capital city university that encouraged the government to look for a way first in limiting “control” over the student body (the era of Ministers of loris-Melikov and saburov) and then, after the obvious failure of these policies – to limit the “autonomy” of universities (regulations 1884).