The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has announced that it is implementing a new board member agreement and a new code of ethics to guide members in their responsibilities, decision-making and activities. The documents, which the FSF said were “designed to help make FSF governance more transparent, accountable, ethical and accountable,” were created as part of a six-month review led by a consultant.
In March, FSF founder and GPL author Richard Stallman announced he was returning to the board, after stepping down as director of the board and chairman of the FSF in 2019. His resignation followed a series of controversial remarks about rape, assault and child sex trafficking, as well as two decades of behavior and statements that many have found disturbing and offensive. He was then ousted by the maintainers of the GNU Project from his position as project leader.
Stallman’s controversial return has been supported by the majority of the FSF board, with the exception of board member Kat Walsh who resigned after voting against his reinstatement. The organization’s executive director, deputy director and chief technology officer also resigned in protest.
At that time, the FSF board issued a statement saying that they “are taking full responsibility for the mismanagement of the news of his election to a board seat. We had anticipated a flow of information that was not executed on time or delivered in the right order. His reinstatement surprised FSF staff, who were neither informed nor consulted.
Mozilla, the Open Source Initiative, Red Hat, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other leading tech organizations also opposed the decision in published statements and withdrew their support for the FSF and critical funding.
The WordPress Foundation, which previously listed FSF as one of the project’s inspirations, quietly removed the link from the website in the wake of the controversy. WordPress executive director Josepha Haden Chomphosy released a statement, saying she did not support Stallman’s return as a board member, and confirmed to the tavern that it was also about the official position of the WordPress project.
In what appears to be an attempt to return to a semblance of accountability, the FSF’s new code of ethics aims to prevent future incidents of board members acting on behalf of the organization without authorization. Here are some relevant ethical elements in the document:
- The members of the board of directors will not undertake any activity which would seriously harm the FSF. When they act as board members, they will work for the success of the FSF.
- Board members should all avoid placing – and appearing to place – their own interests or that of any third party, including the interests of associate members, above that of the organization in his outfit.
- Board members should not speak on behalf of the FSF unless specifically authorized to do so. Directors should not declare that their authority as members of the board extends further than it actually extends. The board speaks as a whole, not as individuals.
The new governance is a positive step towards transparency and accountability, but after all the damage done during Stallman’s botched reinstatement rollout, opposing organizations are unlikely to settle for less than his removal from the board. .