Wikiversity open letter project/WMF Board March 2010

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This OPEN LETTER seeks clarification about disruption of the Wikiversity project and the censoring of Wikiversity content by the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees and will be sent to the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Trustees.

The text of the letter was frozen at the end of March. Wikiversity participants then had a week (April 1- April 7) to sign the letter. A printed copy of the letter has been sent to the Board. Participants in this learning project should freely distribute the letter, particularly so as to be sure that each Board member is aware of the letter.

Related project: a letter with links in the text. The letter, below, will be printed on paper and sent by snail mail to the Board.

Open letter to the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees, March 2010[edit]

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:Juan de Vojníkov

{add yourself to this list of names of Wikiversity community members sending the letter}

Note: this letter was drafted at



Useful for those sending the letter:


Discussion by project participants. Note: this discussion section is part of a learning project. Do not move the comments of other people from this page to the talk page. If you are not a participant in this learning project then you might want to place comments about this learning project on the talk page. However, your discussion comments are welcome on this page, even if you did not sign the Open Letter.

A good letter, but I feel it needs to show some evidence of understanding to the concerns and motivations of Jimmy Wales, however inappropriate and hurtful his actions evidently were. Showing some level of empathy will help the letter read less like an attack, and more like an invitation to negotiate. Best wishes and thank you for your hard work Leighblackall 06:34, 31 March 2010 (UTC)

I think the concerned users that "We" represents does not know what Jimmy Wales specific concerns and motivations are. Hence a lack of transparency. -- darklama  12:07, 31 March 2010 (UTC)
"show some evidence of understanding to the concerns and motivations of Jimmy Wales". Leigh: I added a new paragraph after the list (items 1-4) that quotes the stated concerns of Jimbo. --JWSchmidt 14:19, 31 March 2010 (UTC)

Above it says:

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.

I'd disagree however with that description. To quote directly from the page, it said "On this page we discuss, brainstorm, and possibly execute ethical breaching experiments - in particular whether or not such things are possible, and if so, how they might be designed and executed to best inform policy and practice on WMF projects." Privatemusings had defined an "ethical breaching experiment" as "An experiment which causes no harm in its execution, whilst yielding results useful for the greater good, or which inspire positive change, but which uses methods which may violate the letter or spirit of the guildeline 'Do not disrupt Wikipedia to illustrate a point'". I therefore don't think the letter accurately describes this. It doesn't make it clear that Privatemusings described the page as a place to "discuss, brainstorm, and possibly execute ethical breaching experiments", nor that Privatemusings definition of an "ethical breaching experiment" acknowledged that the execution of such experiments had the potential to involve violating guidelines. Adambro 15:12, 31 March 2010 (UTC)

I think it would be best for all if the page was undeleted so objective observers can see the page and discuss it. The page is a harmless learning project that was deleted out of process. <-- This is the key point that the letter should concisely convey to the Board. There is nothing wrong with a thoughtful discussion and search for actions that might breach the spirit of a rule in order to bring positive change. --JWSchmidt 16:25, 31 March 2010 (UTC)
The definition Privatemusings provided acknowledged the potential to violate one specific guideline "Do not use Wikipedia to make a point". His desire to explore ways in which to bring about positive change would of followed the spirit of Wikipedia:Ignore all rules: If a rule prevents you from improving or maintaining Wikipedia, ignore it. That page is a policy unlike the guideline he was wanting to explore the possibility of ignoring. -- darklama  16:43, 31 March 2010 (UTC)
I'm simply making an observation here. Those interested in writing this letter can feel free to do as they wish, it is simply my impression at the moment that the description of the project leaves out some important aspects. Specifically, that the project goal was broader than just searching for an appropriate "ethical breaching experiment", it was to possibly including executing them, and that the definition given acknowledged the potential to violate guidelines. Darklama can verify that the quotes I've given are accurate and I suspect a copy of the project probably exists elsewhere anyway so undeletion isn't necessary or appropriate. Rather than ignore these points in this letter, I think it would be better to explain why they aren't a concern as Darklama has attempted here. Adambro 17:49, 31 March 2010 (UTC)
Adambro: concerns such as yours are not directly relevant to the purpose of this letter. Dealing with concerns such as yours are why Wikiversity has an "edit" button, the button which should be used rather than "delete" and "block". The deleted project existed as a place to discuss the matters that you have expressed concern about. The "ethical breaching experiments" project pages should be undeleted so that discussion of your concerns can take place in the correct place: in the context of the original learning project. Anyone supporting the out-of-process deletion of the "ethical breaching experiments" learning resource is disrupting the Wikiversity project. --JWSchmidt 19:08, 31 March 2010 (UTC)
I think including an explanation of the concerned users POV on why the learning project was educational/useful could be useful for the Trustees to understand. The explanation I gave above, if it fits with the concerned users POV, could be used to explain to the Trustees why the inclusion of the learning project is important and is of concern for the concerned users. -- darklama  19:24, 31 March 2010 (UTC)
I don't understand your point, but feel free to edit the letter. --JWSchmidt 19:38, 31 March 2010 (UTC)
What I've presented here aren't really my concerns, they are simply the facts about what the page said. I think to neglect to mention these facts would provide an incomplete picture of the project. It would invite suggestions that the reason for doing so is because those facts are perhaps damaging to the argument that this project didn't have the potential of disrupting other WMF projects, a significant part of the justification for deleting it. There is a clear choice for those writing this letter. Either ignore the aspects of a page which present a greater challenge to the argument that the action was inappropriate, or face up to these facts and try to provide reassurance that they aren't a concern as Darklama has attempted above. Adambro 19:40, 31 March 2010 (UTC)
I think everyone at the Foundation who will read this letter knows that Wikipedia culture has a very strong "nip this in the bud" approach to management. I hope they know that Wikiversity has a culture where the approach is more "let's nurture this bud and see what develops". Another way of describing the difference is that Wikiversity participants are willing to assume good faith with respect to people who are thoughtfully developing a Wikiversity learning resource. I believe the letter makes clear that any problems with the content of the "ethical breach project" could have been addressed by editing and discussion...the usual wiki way. This was a project that existed harmlessly at Wikiversity for more than two months; there was no emergency that required Jimbo's intervention. Even if Jimbo mistakenly viewed the project as an emergency, he should have started thinking along other lines as soon as SBJ initiated the community review of Jimbo's actions. Instead, he deleted the pages a second time and threatened the very existence of Wikiversity in order to try to enforce his disputed view of the situation. We need to hear from the Board if Jimbo is more than a Steward and able to get away with this kind of behavior. That is the purpose of this get clarification from the Board. If the Board wants to impose Wikipedia's culture on Wikiversity then they are free to do so, we just need a clear public statement of their intentions. "this project didn't have the potential of disrupting other WMF projects" <-- this is not anyone's argument. I can imagine worst-case scenarios in which the project could have led to something "damaging", but if Wikiversity speedy deletion criteria are to be, "If I assume bad faith about this page then I can imagine a danger to Wikipedia and so I will delete it without discussion," then there are many people who will no longer participate at Wikiversity. If you can think of a way to edit the letter so as to make the point you want to make, go ahead and start a new version on a subpage. --JWSchmidt 00:19, 1 April 2010 (UTC)

I would suggest to change the date on the letter. -- 20:16, 2 April 2010 (UTC)

Petition to shut down Wikiversity[edit]

I think this open letter is a perfect example of what is wrong with Wikiversity. Where most Wikimedia projets serve some useful purpose (as an encyclopedia, dictionary, free media repository, quote collection, etc), Wikiversity serves none. It is simply a haven for trolls banned from other projects, who migrate here to continue whatever behavior got them banned originally. I think it's long past time to shut the entire project down. I have created a petition to the Board of Trustees. Anyone who agrees with me that Wikiversity should be shut down should sign the petition. Raul654 23:18, 4 April 2010 (UTC)

I think this message is a perfect example of what is wrong with wikipedians jumping into wikiversity, not understanding what is going on and passing judgements. A simple search would reveal such pages as wikiversity:mission and Wikiversity:Approved_Wikiversity_project_proposal#Mission, and Wikiversity:Main Page. A simple question on the colloquium would lead you to wikiversity:school and university projects and betawikiversity:brick and mortar collaboration. While you may or may not agree with what are done on these projects, it is folly to speak with such volume without even being aware of them. Hillgentleman | //\\ |Talk 04:13, 5 April 2010 (UTC)
Until I saw this, I thought the idea of shutting down Wikiversity was too extreme, but now I am convinced. This particular asylum seems to have been taken over by the inmates. Kaldari 14:17, 5 April 2010 (UTC)
I wish. I'm struck by what appears to be an assumption that the "asylum being taken over by the inmates" is a bad thing. The "asylum" is obviously Wikiversity, and "the inmates" the community of those who edit it. But this would apply to Wikipeda as well. If the WMF (or Jimbo as their rep) decides that a wiki community cannot be trusted, orderly shutdown or clear management would then be reasonable, the former giving the community the opportunity to fork effectively and do what they please under their own decision-making process and responsibility. Sudden deletion would do serious damage to the whole WikiMedia community. "The inmates" are not prisoners, held against their will, but voluntary participants who do expect fair treatment, whether it is legally binding or not. The attitude betrays an assumption that the "inmates" do not run the other projects. So, who or what does? --Abd 19:03, 9 April 2010 (UTC)
Oh, Another familiar name. "Seems to have been"? You had better have some more specific charges based on something more concrete or else it is just smearing. Hillgentleman | //\\ |Talk 14:50, 5 April 2010 (UTC)
I've already made my charges and I stand by them (in the RFC regarding the breaching experiments). I don't need to repeat them all here. Kaldari 15:23, 5 April 2010 (UTC)
There wasn't an RFC regarding the breaching experiment. There was an RFC against Jimbo Wales' messing up Wikiversity affairs. As to the so-called "breaching experiments", the most hideous crime ever perpetrated was a proposal to manipulate an admin or steward to close down a project, and that was the work of long term Wikipedian user:RTG. Hillgentleman | //\\ |Talk 07:50, 6 April 2010 (UTC)

The real irony here is that some of the people signing this letter are banned from other Wikimedia projects due to years of disruptive trolling and have yet to contribute a word of legitimate content to this project. 15:13, 5 April 2010 Kaldari

BTW, e.g. who?--Juan de Vojníkov 16:52, 5 April 2010 (UTC)
Jon Awbrey, for starters. Raul654 17:05, 5 April 2010 (UTC)
And? It is one person, not some people.--Juan de Vojníkov 20:35, 5 April 2010 (UTC)

Please don't shut down! It's likely going to be used by multiple Google Summer of Code projects. 21:15, 7 April 2010 (UTC)

Wikiversity is not going to be shut down. (where would we be without Category:Quizzes, Wikiversity:Random, and Educational Media Awareness Campaigns‽‽) But the concerns about the lack of clear purpose and educational direction are important, and deserve to be swiftly addressed. Rather than engaging in the flame wars at the extreme edge of this conversation, please help expand on what it is about the best parts of Wikiversity that you like -- why are these GSoC projects using Category:Quizzes? what comparable resources did you consider using? -- and, for those dismayed by aspects of the project, identify specific areas of WV that are unfocused or unhelpful. SJ+ 07:54, 11 April 2010 (UTC)

See also[edit]