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Former disciplinary officer, anarchist appointed new Dean of Students

“Except for a little blip after World War II until approximately now, universities have been institutions that at least maintain, if not accentuate, inequality in society.” 

Student radical? Nope. 

McGill Daily editorial? Not that either. 

It’s a statement that would make sense coming out of the mouth of self-identified anarchist, but the newly appointed Dean of Students? André Costopoulos is both.

The statement is surprising, and  André Costopoulos, whose term starts next week, is a surprising choice for the administrator in charge of crafting disciplinary policy, among other duties.

Costopoulos, an anthropologist by training, applied for the job in early summer, just before spending a summer with archaeology students in James Bay. He admits to being sympathetic with some student concerns – such as accessibility to education – but also says that students don’t understand the constraints that administrators must understand.

“Bridges between faculty, students, administration, staff – some of those bridges definitely need maintenance right now. They need to be strengthened, expanded,” said Costopoulos in an interview with The Daily.

So will he be an ally for student demands in the wake of growing student activism in Quebec and elsewhere? Or will he be, as one McGill activist familiar with both Costopoulos and the University’s disciplinary procedure put it, the “biggest ‘good cop’ in the world”?

Costopoulos will be one of the main voices at the table when it comes to the upcoming review of the Provisional Protocol Regarding Demonstrations, Protests, and Occupations on McGill University Campuses, as well as the ‘Green Book,’ that outlines student rights and responsibilities at the University.

“I will definitely be worrying about how the protocol, once it becomes more firm, will be interacting with what’s in the Green Book,” he said, also citing problems in the vagueness of the language.

Costopoulos comes to the position after four years as the Associate Dean of Arts, where he was the faculty’s disciplinary officer and was responsible for the banning of four students from campus last spring under article 21(a) of the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedure.

One of the banned students, former SSMU VP External Joël Pedneault, told The Daily last March that “there was no confrontational atmosphere” at the event – a gathering of Université de Quebec à  Montréal students in a McGill classroom – for which he received a five-day ban.

The incoming dean said he would like to see article 21(a) revised, to include what he called an “oversight control mechanism” that would “check against the worst possible abuse” of the policy by the administration.

Anarchism and Discipline

For Costopoulos, it is a delicate balancing act to be both an anarchist and the administrator formerly in charge of executing disciplinary measures, and now in charge of crafting disciplinary policy.

“One of the things I always say is that ‘as an anarchist, it’s my responsibility to be in administration,’” he said, jokingly admitting that this might get him in trouble with both the administration and with fellow anarchists.

Both Costopoulos’ conception of discipline and anarchism revolve around his understanding of personal discipline, and thus the incoming Dean of Students has crafted a philosophy of discipline that involves the prioritizing of student rights.

“Because of this concept of personal responsibility, there’s no direct contradiction between hierarchy and anarchy, as long as the hierarchy is participatory,” he said.

“Usually, a violation of one of the articles of the Code of Student Conduct can be defined as a violation of a right guaranteed in the charter,” he said.

“One approach to discipline, and this has been my approach, is to cast it in terms of rights. Not your rights, but the rights of others.”

Last year, several students who participated in the #6party occupation of the James Administration Building had their punishments mitigated after making a case that there was an “undue burden” placed on the students.

In Costopoulos’ view, most disagreements at the University are disagreements about means to what are, he said, fairly universal ends.

As a McGill undergraduate from 1988 to 1992, Costopoulos said he was active in the Arts Undergraduate Society, sitting on curriculum and hiring committees. He added that it is incumbent upon student anarchists to enter student politics.

Was last year his most difficult as an administrator?

“Sure it was,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s a moment that a lot of interesting stuff can happen as a result of this. It put people’s attention on a bunch of problems that were there and were not necessarily addressed.”