Prof. Thomas Gaehtgens and Prof. James Cuno
Prof. Thomas Gaehtgens and Prof. James Cuno

When, in January this year, we on the staff of the Courtauld learned that Jim was to leave us for the Art Institute of Chicago after hardly more than eighteen months, there was the steepest fall in morale that I can remember. Regret will always, I believe, tinge the way we view his time with us. Now, with the arrival of a very different new director, who has already been able to raise our morale even before her arrival, I think it right to consider why there was so intense a sense of loss at Jim’s leaving.

Jim Cuno is a positive force. We saw him throw himself into the job of forming a new, independent institution with an energy that was infectious. And something rare in British academe, he brought with him a near total inability to think negatively. He set himself to master the impenetrable complexities of the British university world, and, though there was, I suspect, always somewhere in him that did not quite believe what he was learning, he came to terms with the lessons at speed. He insisted on making his own contribution as a teacher with a 1st year "topic" course that was given straight ones (the highest grade) by the students in their course evaluations. He chaired our meetings with relaxed charm, unembarrassed by the need sometimes for further instruction. He always wanted to hear what we thought, but was just as ready to make decisions and did so always with his eye firmly on our future.

Just two things he gave us will continue to have a real impact: a clearer idea of the problems and priorities that must shape our strategy over the next half decade at least, and the Research Forum. And yet, the one legacy he leaves that says most, I believe, about Jim himself is the Degree Ceremony. The opportunity for the Institute as a newly independent college to determine for itself how to give its own degrees was one that Jim took up with real relish. He brought the date forward to the week following the final degree decisions, so that almost all students and their parents now attend, and he devised a ceremony, complete with procession, that brought the whole academic community, staff and students, publicly together. There are few better ways by which he could have brought home to us everything that was positive about our new collective identity.

Jim Cuno was with us for far too short a period in our history, but, I feel that we owe him a debt that will continue well into our future, for teaching us something of what we can be.

Prof. Christopher Green
Acting Director, July-Sept., 2004