An Interview with Fréderic Bastien: Professor by Day, Politician by Night
By Romy Shoam
Meet Fréderic Bastien, a history professor at Dawson. He might be teaching you Western Civilization, but he’s also a candidate in the Parti Québécois leadership election, which is taking place in June of this year. While his political views are quite publicized, and can be easily found through a simple Google search, how he manages his day job as a teacher throughout the election campaign has remained unknown until this interview.
Bastien has had a passion for history for a long time. He recalls reading a book as a child about the “great leaders of all time” such as Abraham Lincoln, Julius Caesar and Napoleon, some of whom he lectures about in his classes. He says that he likes to spread his enthusiasm for history to his students, even if it is not always easy. He values history because it “enables us to put some distance between ourselves and the present, to put things into perspective.”
How does he balances his candidacy with his work as a professor? It is, he says, “a question of hats.” When he is at Dawson, he wears his professor ‘hat,’ and takes great care to avoid displaying his political views in class. He keeps to himself in terms of his personal opinions, and when there is a debate, he tries to not show that he’s on one side instead of another. He believes it is not the role of the teacher to influence students in such a way, except to say things like “Mao Zedong, the communist leader of China, was a scumbag,” i.e., “things that 99% of people will agree with.”
Despite it being his area of expertise, he tries to refrain from getting into things related to Quebec or Canadian politics, but sometimes, it cannot be avoided. For example, when teaching a Quantitative Methods class in the fall semester, course content related to “sampling, polling, margin of error,” inevitably brought up a discussion of the federal election, as they used those tools to attempt to predict who will win. However, he never told his students for whom he was going to vote for, he simply urged them to vote.
Ever since he launched his campaign, he has taken extra precaution to not discuss politics in class. When he’s in front of his students, he explicitly says that “I'm not a politician campaigning, I'm a teacher paid by Dawson.” He knows that some students are aware of his candidacy - in fact, he overheard them talking about it - but he never speaks of it, and none of his students seem to be acting any differently.
Although he separates his educational role from his political role, there is inevitably an overlap between the two: Bastien believes his studies in political history helped prepare him for his career. He says that campaigning is very demanding and that there are some long weeks that leave him very tired. If he’s your professor, maybe now you understand why it took so long to get those midterms back!