Growing up in Estevan, the son of a sheriff, Cuming’s interest in the law was sparked by his father’s career in law enforcement.
“It was probably in Grade 11 that I decided I wanted to pursue an education in law,” he said. “The only catch was, I needed Latin to apply, but Latin wasn’t offered in Estevan.”
Luckily enough, a teacher from Italy offered to teach him Latin after class, and the rest, shall we say, is a long and storied history.
Joining the faculty at the College of Law back in 1966, Cuming is the longest-serving active professor at the university. Fellow USask law school alumnus Judge Samuel Goldstein—recently profiled in the latest issue of Thrive magazine—has spent 58 years teaching commercial law on a part-time basis as a sessional lecturer in the Edwards School of Business, with Cuming and Goldstein together providing a remarkable 111 years of legal expertise in education at the university.
During his tenure on campus, Cuming has taught thousands of students and has introduced more than a handful of new courses at the college, ranging from bankruptcy law to personal property security law. Outside the classroom, his contributions to the law have been felt across the globe in countries including Albania, Armenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Egypt, Georgia, Ghana, India, Iraq, Mexico, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
“I always say a professor has three responsibilities: to teach, to research and to reform the law,” he said.
And reform the law he has. Cuming was a principal draftsperson of the Saskatchewan Personal Property Security Act, he co-authored the Enforcement of Money Judgements Act, and was a technical advisor to the Canadian Department of Transport in the preparation of the Convention on International Interests in Mobile Equipment. Cuming has acted as technical advisor to the World Bank, the Organization of American States, the Asian Development Bank and other international agencies in the area of commercial law reform of developing countries, and in 2006 he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Bar Association.
In 2016, the College of Law celebrated Cuming’s 50th year of teaching with a reception and commercial law conference named in his honour. That same year, he was bestowed the highest honour in teaching at USask—the title of distinguished professor. He has also received prestigious awards including the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union Teaching Excellence Award and USask’s Distinguished Researcher Award.
So after half a century of researching, teaching and writing the law, what keeps him coming back to work day after day? The answer is simple: “I love the job,” he said. “Every day is a discovery, it’s intellectually stimulating and I have the opportunity to associate with intelligent and decent people. It’s a very pleasant place to work.”
Cuming not only finds the motivation to keep coming back, he is usually one of the first people in the office, arriving every morning at 7:30 to teach his 8:30 am classes.
“By 10 o’clock I’m done teaching and have the rest of the day for research and writing,” he said.
Cuming has used that time wisely, but even he couldn’t have envisioned his lengthy career as a professor of law. In fact, he didn’t really intend to become an academic until a few short years ago.
“I always had it in my mind that I was still just trying out law. That is until about five or six years ago when I thought ‘maybe this is permanent,’” he said, with a chuckle. “And the question is, do I intend to retire soon? The answer is absolutely not—I’m having too much fun.”