Wikiversity participants send an Open Letter to the WMF Board

The following letter was drafted at Wikiversity.

Open letter to the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees

April 7, 2010

To: Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees
Wikimedia Foundation Inc.
149 New Montgomery Street, 3rd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94105

Dear Trustees,

As members of the English language Wikiversity community we direct your attention to matters of concern to the Wikiversity community. We seek a clear response to our concerns from the Board.

Mr. Wales has claimed to have full support of the Wikimedia Foundation for his recent use of his “Founder” rights at the English language Wikiversity. Our understanding is that the Board of Trustees gave Mr. Wales his “Founder” rights so that he could continue to function as a Steward. In non-emergency situations Stewards do not make unilateral decisions; they discuss matters transparently and are supposed to follow local processes and community consensus. We believe that Mr. Wales misused his “Founder” tools to intervene in a non-emergency situation. Specifically,

  1. Mr. Wales deleted Wikiversity learning project pages without following the established community process for discussing page deletion decisions. We believe he should have discussed, edited, or suggested deletion of the learning resources;
  2. Mr. Wales has imposed unwarranted blocks against editing on honest and sincere Wikiversity participants who (unlike Mr. Wales) followed community guidelines. We believe he should have discussed blocking participants with Custodians and, more specifically, made sure he would be able to explain specific reasons for his actions rather than force his actions on the community by means of uncivil name-calling (“troll”);
  3. Mr. Wales performed an unwarranted emergency desysop on a Wikiversity Bureaucrat when no emergency existed. We believe he should have calmly proposed to the community that the Bureaucrat’s tools be removed;
  4. Mr. Wales bullied the community by threatening Wikiversity with closure and called thoughtful Wikiversity participants “trolls”. We believe he should have participated in civil discussion of his specific concerns with the thoughtful and sincere participants of the Wikiversity community.

The Board should be aware that the Wikiversity pages deleted by Mr. Wales were known to Wikiversity Custodians and they constituted a thoughtful search for ways to help and improve WMF wiki projects. Please note that Mr. Wales only discussed his initial deletion of this Wikiversity learning resource on his user talk page at Wikipedia. Only after the actions of Mr. Wales were made a matter of discussion at a Wikiversity Community Review did he offer an explanation for his actions. Mr. Wales stated his belief that the deleted learning resource was not “genuine”, was “silly and juvenile”, constituted an attempt to “hijack Wikiversity” and “get back at” Wikipedia, was “pure sophistry” and all he did by deleting the learning project was “deal with trolling”. However, we ask the Board to ask: why do honest and sincere Wikiversity participants not agree with this assessment of the deleted learning resource? The project’s stated goal was to search for an “ethical breaching experiment” which was defined as: An experiment which causes no harm in its execution, whilst yielding results useful for the greater good, or which inspire positive change. If there were problems with this learning project then they could have been fixed by discussion and page editing.

Mr. Wales has repeatedly failed to respond to our concerns and questions at his Wikiversity user talk page, the Wikiversity Community Review of this matter and at the Wikiversity Colloquium community discussion page. His failure to address the concerns of the community prompted this letter to the Board.

We request that the Board of Trustees hold a public discussion where members of the Wikiversity community can discuss our concerns with the Board and have them addressed. We believe that the intervention into Wikiversity affairs by Mr. Wales was an unwelcome intrusion and interruption of on-going community processes. We believe that had community processes been followed by Mr. Wales then a mutually agreeable solution could have been found that would have addressed Mr. Wales concerns while maintaining community integrity and health. We request that the Trustees in particular clarify how and in what ways Mr. Wales was authorized to use “Founder” tools at Wikiversity. If he has special authorization from the Board, beyond Steward rights, that authorization needs to be public and clear. Without clarity in this matter, the relationship between the Board and the Wikiversity community cannot be one of mutual understanding, respect and trust. We believe that the Board should then hold a public vote in which the trustees all clearly state whether through its agent, Mr. Wales, the Board of Trustees will continue to exercise editorial control and make unilateral decisions at Wikiversity when no emergency exists.


User:JWSchmidt John Schmidt

User:Jon Awbrey Jon Awbrey

The real irony here is that many of the people expressing these concerns have spent the last half decade publicly calling for Mr. Wales to exhibit decisive leadership in fixing the BLP problem on Wikipedia — instead of doing that he has chosen to strong-arm the people who are documenting the seriousness of the problem.

User:Leighblackall Leigh Blackall

User:Hillgentleman from English and Beta Wikiversity

My deepest concern is that someone who claims to be advocating better policies for the community cannot see that he himself has time and again shown disregard for both the community and their procedures.

User:Erkan Yilmaz

User:Jtneill James Neill

I am particularly concerned by the lack of clarity in the role of ‘founder’, “Its [founder] roles in various Wikimedia projects are not yet defined”, which seems to provide significant potential for incidents such as this one.

Countrymike Brent Simpson


User:Moulton Barry Kort – These unjustified, unbecoming, and indefensible interventions into the conscientious work of serious scholars has damaged the morale and integrity of Wikiversity and has brought lamentable discredit to Mr. Wales.

Note: this letter was drafted at

The text of the letter was finalized at the end of March and a printed copy was sent to the Foundation in April. Wikiversity participants can sign the letter …. additional places where you can sign: A, B.

Related reading: timeline of events and links to related resources, including copies of the deleted pages.

First Response from the WMF Board


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4 Responses to “Wikiversity participants send an Open Letter to the WMF Board”

  1. Moulton Says:

    John, do you want to do an update here to show the final version of the letter, as sent, including the list of signatories and their signing statements?

  2. John Schmidt Says:

    I suppose I could post a copy of the version that I mailed to the Foundation, but I’d prefer that other people go ahead and make their own versions.

  3. Moulton Says:

    I just think it might be confusing to have unsynchronized draft copies here and on en.WV, neither of which contain the final text and signatories of the letter actually sent.

  4. Collaborative Learning Says:

    This blog post was linked to by a later blog post.

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