Q&A with Faculty Athletic Representative Cliff Kubiak
Few among even the most fervent followers of UC San Diego Athletics would know that one of the most important members of the Triton Athletic staff actually works in the UCSD Chemistry Department. Dr. Cliff Kubiak, part of the faculty at UCSD since 1998 and Chairman of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry from 2002-06, is UCSD's Faculty Athletic Representative (FAR). In that role, he serves as the primary liaison between the athletic program and the faculty. A graduate of Brown University with a Ph.D. from University of Rochester, Kubiak has done some of his most significant work in the field of renewable energy, especially converting atmospheric carbon dioxide back to liquid fuel. He has been UCSD's FAR since 2007. "Cliff has a valued role in our department with his oversight of academic integrity, his relationships with faculty on campus and the leadership he's provided in our conference," said UCSD's Director of Athletics Earl W. Edwards. "From a personal perspective, I consider him a good friend and colleague and hope he'll be with us for a long time." Kubiak took time recently to discuss the responsibilities of his position and share his views on the unique athletic environment at UC San Diego.
Q: What type of
experiences did you have with UC San Diego student-athletes prior to accepting
your current position?
KUBIAK: I have taught General Chemistry, CHEM 6C at UCSD since 1999, and over the years I got to know many student-athletes who were taking the course. This got my attention, because before I came to UCSD, I was on the faculty at Purdue University for 16 years, and I can only recall one student-athlete who took my general chemistry course there over the many years that I taught there.
At UCSD, I got to know some of the student-athletes because they came to speak to me about the need for excused absences from classes or exams that conflicted with scheduled competitions. I was reluctant to grant "special consideration" to the student-athletes. However, as I got to know them better as students, I couldn't help but notice how well many were doing (CHEM 6C has never been regarded as an easy class). Aware of their dual roles as athletes and scholars, I became impressed by how well many student- athletes managed their time. Several student-athletes became so interested in chemistry that they came to work as undergraduate researchers in my laboratory.
One of my CHEM 6C student-athletes published two research articles in prestigious chemistry journals based on research that she did in my laboratory while she was carrying a 3.95 GPA, and playing goalie on the women's soccer team. She went on to graduate from UCSD's Medical School, and is now a resident at the University of Arizona Medical School. Another of my CHEM 6C student athletes also published two research articles based on his independent research in my laboratory. He was a two-time Sports Illustrated All-American in high school water polo, and competed on the UCSD water polo team. He was recently awarded a Ph.D. in Chemistry from MIT.
These and other experiences with UCSD student-athletes really made an impression on me, and when the Chancellor asked me first to serve on Athletics, Recreation, Sports Facilities Advisory Board (ARSFAB), and then to become the Faculty Athletic Representative (FAR), I was happy to get involved with the broader issues of the student-athlete experience at UCSD. I do believe that the student-athlete experience here is special.
Q: What has surprised
you most about the UCSD Athletic Department since becoming the Faculty Athletic
KUBIAK: I wasn't exactly "surprised," I just did not know before how extensive and professional the coaching and support staff was in areas like strength and conditioning, nutrition, recognizing and treating sports injuries. A significant part of every Coaches' Meeting is devoted to the preparedness and physical well-being of student-athletes. The sophistication of trainers and coaches in this area is very impressive. You can easily see from the way our student-athletes interact with the trainers, strength and conditioning, and athletic performance staff, how highly they are regarded.
Q: What are the most
difficult and gratifying aspects of the job?
KUBIAK: Some of the most difficult parts of the job come with responsibilities associated with our athletic conference, the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA). As UCSD's FAR, I participate on the CCAA Executive Council with the Directors of Athletics, Associate Athletics Directors or Senior Woman Administrators, and FARs from the other 11 institutions in our conference. This involves a significant amount of committee work.
I am currently on the conference's Eligibility Committee. This committee reviews all eligibility waivers, which can be based on circumstances related to personal hardship, medical condition or injury, or intra-conference transfer. Some of these waiver appeals can be gut-wrenching. It is just awful to see how many unhappy situations can come raining down on young people, if you sample a large population. Other waivers can be quite tricky to interpret. Overall, I view this as one of the harder parts of the job.
The most gratifying part of the job is to enjoy the success of student-athletes at UCSD in academics and athletics. It is a very good feeling to be a faculty member at an institution where we have so many outstanding student-athletes who can compete in intercollegiate athletics while maintaining amazing academic records in very demanding majors. It makes me grin to think of student-athletes who were named All-Americans, who also hold 3.9 GPAs, and were on record saying that their favorite course at UCSD was organic chemistry!
Q: For some time now,
UC San Diego student-athletes, as a group, have a cumulative GPA higher than
the student body at-large. Why does that happen?
KUBIAK: It is true that UCSD student-athletes on average maintain a higher cumulative GPA than the general student population. I think that there are several reasons for this.
Firstly, time management is so important. It is impossible to be a student and an athlete and not be forced to learn how to manage your time effectively.
Secondly, responding to failure. If you lose a game or a race, you respond by training harder and preparing yourself mentally to compete and win next time. That formula works very well in academics too.
Thirdly, maybe it's too obvious, but teamwork is the way that big problems are often solved in business, and even in scientific research. Big problems in science, like developing renewable energy sources, require cross disciplinary teams of scientists, engineers, and public policy experts, who can all work together. This is usually much easier said than done.
Lastly, learning to take care of your body, through exercise, diet, and understanding the effects of the substances you may take, is a good investment. Taking care of yourself is important for both physical and mental well being.
Q: What is the most
common misconception that you feel outsiders have about collegiate athletic programs
in general, UC San Diego in particular?
KUBIAK: It seems that the perception that many people have of collegiate athletic programs is that they involve (more or less in this order): football, basketball, baseball, and track & field. The second perception is that if you are really good in one of these sports, and have a respectable GPA, your school will probably advertise that fact on television. Many outsiders seem surprised that we have an athletics program. We are usually the third school with "San Diego" in its name to be mentioned in the local media.
However, we have a large athletic program with 19 teams: baseball, softball, men's golf and men's and women's basketball, crew, cross country, fencing, soccer, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, volleyball and water polo. Many of our student-athletes have better-than-respectable GPAs. Our student-athletes are admitted under the same admission guidelines as the general student population. I think these are things we should advertise on television. This is who we are, and it is distinctly different from typical collegiate athletics programs.
Q: As mentioned, you
represent UCSD at the conference and NCAA level. What types of issues do you
deal with there? Do you have any interesting insights you can share?
KUBIAK: Lots. I am part of the university's voting delegation at the NCAA Convention and we will vote our positions on legislation that will come before the Division II legislative session. Some of the issues this year involve amateurism, financial donations from outside organizations, eligibility of foreign exchange students and recruiting calendars.
A lot of business comes before the three CCAA conference meetings each year, as well. There are many sports specific issues that come from meetings of the coaches, competitive safeguards, community engagement, academic requirements, budgets, championships, marketing the conference and team travel arrangements for a conference that stretches from Arcata (Humboldt State) to San Diego.
Q: Have you observed
anything watching the UCSD coaching staff that you can apply to the chemistry
KUBIAK: I think that the next time I teach CHEM 6C, I'm going to use a whistle.
Q: What are your
favorite sports to play and watch? Why?
KUBIAK: I like to play squash. I have played since college, and still enjoy it. RIMAC has two very nice squash courts. I like to watch football. It is not a sport we have at UCSD, but I still like to watch. This year I attended the Cal-Maryland game in Berkeley, and the Notre Dame-Boston College game in South Bend.
Q: Is there a
particular sport you've become more interested in since becoming UCSD's FAR?
KUBIAK: Of the sports played at UCSD, women's basketball is my favorite, because the way it is played is all about fundamentals. It's believable. Men's basketball is exciting to watch, but a lot of the plays are unbelievable, at least for me.
Q: What do you
consider the biggest challenge going forward for UCSD Intercollegiate
KUBIAK: The biggest challenge will be to grow our athletics department to a point where we compete with similar schools and keep high levels of academic excellence among our student-athletes. The level of competition in our Division II conference is certainly higher than when we were an NCAA Division III school, but as the only UC in our athletic conference, it is hard to create the types of rivalries that get students excited on other campuses.
I once heard an NCAA official say matter-of-factly that all top 25 research universities were NCAA Division I. Naturally, I corrected her. However, if we do grow in that direction, there will be costs. Financial costs are borne by our students. UCSD's athletic program is nearly fully-funded by student fees. As for costs to the scholar-athlete environment that we have established at UCSD, that is something that we have to consider very, very carefully.
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