In that discussion Jimmy has called on Wikiversity to set up stronger policies for deterring what he sees as "trolls, breaching experiments (experiments designed to test the strength of Wiki policies), and attacks on Wikipedians". That discussion appeared to get a little heated and Jimmy dropped what appeared to be a threat:
I am currently discussing the closure of Wikiversity with the board. That is an unlikely outcome, but I mention it because I really want to press the point that the scope of Wikiversity has to be restricted to genuine OER. I think that my actions here are strongly supportive of the genuine community who want to do that, making it clear to them that they have very strong support for making it happen. Some may feel that Wikiversity should be a place for silly and juvenile experimentation. If people want to discuss such things, there is an entire Internet open to them - they should not hijack Wikiversity for these purposes.--Jimbo Wales 14:49, 13 March 2010 (UTC)I've come into the conversation a little late, but I am shaken by Jimmy's threat. One it polarises a complex issue into two simplistic extremes, belittling the other and inflating his own; two it suggests that Jimmy and others have a clear and set idea about what Wikiversity should be; and three the now obvious possibility of Wikiversity being closed by people outside the Wikiversity volunteer base!
I have no insight into the details or even much of the background of such a thing being considered by the Board, but I sure hope it is being recorded somewhere even if it was just an idle threat from a guy getting a little frustrated and over exercising his power and influence in a debate.
Disempowering Wikiversity volunteers
If it was a simple throw away remark by Jimmy, the punch in the threat (closing Wikiversity unless they fall into line) causes my commitment to Wikiversity, indeed the Foundation to waver. More importantly however, it undermines the community building in Wikiversity if others react to the threat like I do.
Just last week I was involved in several conversations with staff at the University of Canberra about how we might engage with Wikiversity and sister projects more directly in our work. I was giving advice, assurances and pointing to examples of good and bad work. All those discussions ended very favorably towards investing resources into education and research projects using the big wikis. But a remark like this from Jimmy suggesting far from strong support for Wikiversity obviously puts a dampener on that for now.
For what its worth, I have asked Jimmy to ask the Board to give a strong reassurance of their commitment to Wikiversity before my colleagues and I continue with our investment considerations. As impotent as that will sound, It is horrible to think the Board's minds might already be made up on a closure, or on what Wikiversity WILL become... because what happens now is a slow and protracted weakening of those who remain in the way of such a move.
A conflict of interest?
I think it also has to be noted that there is a potential conflict of interest on the Wikimedia Foundation Staff and Advisory Board that might be having some influence on the WMF Board discussions that Jimmy refers to.
- Wayne Mackintosh - founder of Wikieducator, is on the Wikimedia Foundation's Board of Advisors, and using Wikieducator centrally for the running of the Open Education Resource Foundation recently established at Otago Polytechnic. It is in his interests to promote Wikieducator, but while advising the Foundation board on a question of closing Wikiversity, would would he say?
- Erik Möller, Deputy Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, also sits on the Wikieducator Community Council, is long term transitional host of the Wikieducator servers, and managed the implementation of extensions to Wikieducator such as Liquid Threads.
- I am also officially on the Wikieducator Community Council, but am no longer engaged after a dispute and other reasons gave me cause to retract. I am a custodian on Wikiversity, but compared to others there, am a very low key player.
- Here's some history to early concerns of a possible soft campaign to eclipse Wikiversity with Wikieducator
- Erik Möller at a Stanford Open Source Lab in 2007, expressing his views that Wikiversity was a beta project, and his thoughts that Wikieducator represented a better model of a wiki with an educational mission
All of this recent storm in a tea cup stems from a concern Jimmy (and no doubt others) have that Wikiversity is too permissive. This is an accusation I find a little rich after discovering very explicit images on Wikimedia Commons that remained for years before eventually being removed. In that instance it was another Foundation wiki compromising Wikiversity through its permissiveness, but I didn't see Jimmy in there deleting pages or calling for strong policy or else.
I'm actually a no-deletion, less policy kind-a-guy myself. Take this page on Russian Roulette (a drinking game). It was recently nominated for deletion because it was perceived to be outside the scope of Wikiversity. On the one hand you can see why.. its educational value at first was pretty low brow, but James Neill made a minor edit to bring it within acceptable boundaries, and voted not to delete it. A link to Alternatives to partying was added and so begun a teachable moment in that page. It now has the beginnings of sections on the risks and considerations of binge drinking; a quest for links to research into drinking culture, games and alcohol abuse; and another section for counseling and self help resources for people with destructive drinking habits. I mean, the potential educational value of this page is endless, imagine if it was deleted Jimmy Wales style?
But pages like Russian Roulette are politically harmless compared to a perception that Wikiversity harbours misfits out to slur Wikipedia and the top brass. The relative permissiveness on Wikiversity is seen to be the problem, not the policies and culture of the other wikis that are creating so much bad will. And there's a problem for Wikiversity developing policy in tune with the other WMF wikis. Its not a wiki encyclopedia, or even a book or any other reference material. Its a wiki (uni)versity, meaning its scope and academic freedom is potentially limitless. I think that could well be a great thing, but does the $6million Board think so, and can they take the blows they attract if this sort of of freedom is to continue?
There's something fascinatingly dark about wikis
There is some research out there about these governance issues with the wikis. All through these wikis is a dark reflection of the great political and group struggles of humanity. A simple and maybe even a little unfair a comparison would be to Animal Farm. All these individual efforts amounting to something so big that the implications become individually massive, and we start believing in a sort of revolution. But we install, permit or need a power structure that replaces that which was over thrown. At the same time all our identities become entwined in this something so big that's made of us, it stands for something well beyond our actual self. Its a recipe for another conflict and another revolution. Something I'll have to read more about before I will understand it.