Passing the Torch: Kuenne Family Gift Honors Tradition of Scholarship

June 27th, 2013 / Development Com...
Professor Robert Kuenne

Robert E. Kuenne

Scholarship is a tradition in the Kuenne family. Economist Robert Kuenne served on the Princeton faculty for 41 years. His wife, Janet, had a long teaching career in area schools.

When their son Christopher, a member of the Class of 1985, decided to make a gift to the Aspire campaign in 2012, establishing a professorship seemed a fitting tribute to that legacy—and an appropriate way to celebrate the memory of his father, who died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2005 at age 81.

The Robert E. Kuenne Professorship in Economics and Humanistic Studies was established by Christopher and his wife, Leslie; mother, Janet; and sister and brother-in-law, Carolyn and David Jeppsen. It honors the life and work of Professor Kuenne, particularly his distinctive interdisciplinary approach.

“Memorializing my dad’s unique combination of being intensely analytical and profoundly humanistic was very important,” Christopher said. “Dad taught some of the most rigorously analytic courses in the economics department, and yet also created a course that was based on examining capitalism through literature. This dual interest typified my dad’s scholarship and, really, his life.”

From Journalism to Economics

The elder Kuenne, whose father was on the composing room staff at the St. Louis Post Dispatch for 22 years, first studied journalism at the University of Missouri, then switched to economics, earning a master’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis and a PhD from Harvard University.

He taught economics at Princeton from 1956 to 1997, leading a diverse set of classes that included the microeconomics math track for undergraduate majors and several graduate-level courses. But his signature course was “Analyses of Capitalism,” which examined the strengths and weaknesses of capitalism through works of fiction, social criticism, and philosophy.

“This was very unusual within an economics department—people think of economics as analytical and mathematical,” Janet said. “They don’t typically think of this discipline from the humanistic view. That was what Bob brought to it.”

Janet, who earned her bachelor’s degree from Radcliffe College and EdD from the University of Pennsylvania, was a teacher for many years at The Hun School of Princeton.

The Kuenne Professorship

Kuennes with Professor Fleurbaey

From left, Christopher Kuenne ’85, Janet Kuenne P85, and Marc Fleurbaey

The first Kuenne Professor is Marc Fleurbaey, who holds a joint appointment in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Center for Human Values. A native of France and a former faculty member at several institutions there, he is the former editor of the journal Economics and Philosophy and the coordinating editor of Social Choice and Welfare. His research interests include equality of opportunity, and he teaches classes on ethics and economics.

Professor Fleurbaey and the Kuenne family are delighted with the match.

“The initial meeting with the son and the widow—the people who were so close to Professor Kuenne—was very special,” said Professor Fleurbaey. He added that he was especially impressed by the last of Kuenne’s 14 books, Economic Justice in American Society (1993), which he felt “provided a very sharp analysis of political issues.”

Professor Fleurbaey’s work and Professor Kuenne’s intellectual mission are well aligned. “It was a joy to find a scholar of a different generation who is so interested in this same balance between the hard analytic and the more humanistic and social dimensions,” Christopher noted.

Teaching at Princeton: The Next Generation

Christopher, who majored in history at Princeton, earned an MBA from Harvard and worked in marketing management at Johnson & Johnson. Inspired by his father’s econometric modeling, Christopher launched his own business, Rosetta, which was initially a consulting firm focused on identifying the drivers of brand choice and product usage.

He went on to scale Rosetta to be the largest independent digital agency in the world and then sold it to the Publicis Groupe in 2011. He currently is the chairman of Rosetta, which serves a global client roster that spans the technology and telecommunications, healthcare, financial services, and retail industries and now operates as an independent brand in the Publicis Groupe of agencies.

This fall, Christopher will again seek inspiration from his father when he steps in front of the classroom as a lecturer in the School of Engineering and Applied Science’s Keller Center. He will be teaching “High-Tech Entrepreneurship,” which introduces students to the analysis and actions required to launch a successful high-tech company.

“It’s remarkable to see how an institution can serve a family, and a family can serve an institution,” Christopher said.