English professor Anthony Kubiak said he has “dragged around a shadow” regarding why he left one of the most prestigious schools in the nation.
“Who did you kill at Harvard?” people have asked Kubiak time and again.
In a candid interview, Kubiak explained the reasons for his departure from the illustrious institution, where he taught a certain movie star, among others, and how the Sept. 11 attacks forced him to ‘stop the presses’ on his second book, which focuses on the theatrics of American culture.
During his time at Harvard, Kubiak, an associate professor in USF’s English Department, had the opportunity to teach an unknown student on his way to stardom: Oscar winner Matt Damon.
In fact, Damon’s Good Will Hunting got its start in Kubiak’s playwright class at Harvard.
The script was performed in part by Damon in his class, Kubiak said. Damon picked up an Academy Award for Best Writing and co-star Robin Williams won Best Supporting Actor. The film was nominated several more times, including for Best Picture.
“Matt (Damon) read so little (of the script) in class that, in fact, it had no plot,” he said. “Although, the feel of the script read like Good Will Hunting.”
Kubiak said he was proud to see Damon won the award. Kubiak has tried to contact Damon since but has been unsuccessful.
“It was fun to see that,” he said. “Maybe someday I will (contact him).”In the mid-1990s Kubiak left Harvard.
“I had to (leave). My contract was up, basically,” Kubiak said. “Most people hired at Ivy League schools are not offered tenure positions; they are hired by contracts.”
He has been at USF since 1995 and has taught Modern Drama and various English literature courses among others. He obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Milwaukee in 1988.
Soon after that, Kubiak started teaching at Harvard.
“It was a terrific job,” Kubiak said. “(At Harvard,) they let me teach whatever I wanted. I had a light teaching load and great facilities and I got to finish my first book very quickly.”
Kubiak taught at Harvard for seven years and started looking for another position directly before his written agreement expired.
Kubiak, with his wife Susan and then 10-year-old son, Daniel, decided to come down to USF partly because it reminded him of his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin.
“I wanted to come back and teach at a public institution again,” Kubiak said. “USF is very much like the University of Wisconsin … the student population is very similar.”
During his first years at Harvard, Kubiak taught graduate seminars to people who were about to graduate — two years after he, himself, had graduated.
“I was essentially teaching to colleagues … these were very smart people,” Kubiak said. “I had to be on my toes and know what I was about.”
Yoseph Choi, a former student of Kubiak at Harvard now finishing law school in Hamburg, Germany, said in an interview via e-mail that Kubiak is dedicated to his profession.
“Tony was always extremely passionate about the material covered in class,” Choi said. “He finds levels of meaning in things that ordinary persons would just take for granted. He would frequently baffle us with analyses that only a savant (or a madman) could begin to comprehend.”
Kubiak said there was less stress at Harvard than at USF because of the recent budget cuts.
“Right now (at USF), the English Department needs more people,” he said. “At Harvard, they would not bury me with paperwork, for one thing.
“Cambridge was a great time, though there was that Harvard mystique which could get under your skin (as well as) the arrogance of the rich, pampered students who went there.
“But that was a small percentage. Fifty percent of the people who go (to Harvard) are on full scholarships … so there was also a real diversity of students.”
Currently, Kubiak is working on a third publication that focuses on the importance of art for human life and survival. Kubiak’s previous publications include a book on the connection between terrorism and theater and another on American history and culture in American theater.
Kubiak’s second book, Agitated States: Performance in the American Theatre of Cruelty was written before the Sept. 11 attacks and went to print shortly after the attacks.
Therefore, Kubiak said, he was prompted to write a four-to-five-page introduction about the events.
“I was taken by the spectacular nature of the 9/11 attacks,” Kubiak said.
“It seemed to me that the people who planned that act, (Osama) bin Laden and others, really understood, better than any American understands, the fascination with spectacle. That seems very dangerous.”
Kubiak has published various studies on the relationship between terrorism and the media and has also published articles on subjects ranging from primate behavior in theater to early American theater, among others.
Overall, he said, he tries to publish articles at least once a year.
Frances B. Auld, an assistant professor in USF’s English Department for the last seven years, said she’s had Kubiak as an instructor at both graduate and Ph.D. level. Auld said she tries to emulate his teaching technique as much as she can and added that Kubiak allows students to form their own opinion in class.
“I want to learn from his style because he makes me think,” Auld said. “Three hours later, I’m still picking apart a discussion point that we had in class.”