He once studied Canada, just because he felt like it. He once was given a job offer by Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, but he turned it down. He shares sushi with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and calls prominent international relations theorist Francis Fukuyama “Frank.”
As Western’s current Ross Distinguished Professor of Canada-United States Business and Economic Relations and a man who has taught at both American University and Johns Hopkins University, Professor Christopher Sands may just be one of Western’s most interesting instructors. He’s currently teaching a political science class at Western from across the country in Washington D.C. We caught up with him to ask about his background and how he ended up teaching at Western.
What are you currently teaching at Western?
Right now I’m teaching a course that is a cross between economics and political science, Political Science 497. It’s on North American energy, environment and policy. It really is an attempt to look at the policy side of the North American energy equation, as well as taking a look at how we can co-advance environmentalist and energy goals.
How does it work to teach the class from the other side of the country?
I had already committed to be in D.C. this year. Initially we thought it wouldn’t be possible for me to teach a class. What we came up with however, was that by using the Telecomm technology which Western is invested in, we could bring me from Washington D.C. to class via the internet.
For the first hour, we bring in a guest speaker. We then have me, where I lecture and go through questions and then we have an exercise or an activity to make the learning a bit more hands on.
How did you, as a professor, come to be?
I grew up in Michigan and went to undergrad in Minnesota at Macalester College. At the time, the big political economy debate was the governance of cross-border transactions and integrating regions.
I felt that in North America - particularly between the U.S. and Canada - we had the same dynamics but there were very few people actually studying them. So I then went from my political economy interest to focusing entirely on the Canada-U.S. relationship. This coincided with the signing of our Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.
After school, I went back to Michigan to do some work with businesses that were trying to take advantage of that trade agreement, ultimately getting hired by the Michigan branch of the World Trade Center and then the state government.
I then decided to go to graduate school, and decided on Johns Hopkins since JH had a foreign policy school with a Canada-U.S. studies center.
I decided to learn about things that were not taught in the government about Canada, in order to be brought in by the government as a consultant on jobs for higher pay.
In 2007, after doing short-term teaching at American University and traveling, I decided that I still loved teaching and U.S.-Canadian relations. So I decided to become a professor.
What made you want to teach at Western and how did you get here?
I had some contact with Western over the years with a couple of people. Western has this professorship in Canadian Business and Economic Relations. It was established because during the creation of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the Canadian government was willing to provide matching money for campaigns to endow teaching positions in Canadian Studies.
At the time there was a geography professor named Robert Monahan at Western who was trying to create a professorship with Western. He was working closely with then university president Robert Ross.
In the middle of creating this professorship however, Robert Ross and a number of members in his administration were flying back to Bellingham in a small plane and the plane crashed killing everyone aboard. So when they finally passed the initiative they named the professorship after President Ross.
In 2007 they tried to recruit for the professorship, but I had just signed on to another teaching job at Johns Hopkins. Then they came back to me in 2011 and made the hard sell.