Director, deputy director, CTO of Free Software Foundation quit after Stallman installation

Staff eject as board refuses to budge on controversial decision

Updated Three key staff members of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) have resigned following the organization’s decision to reinstall Richard Stallman as a board member.

Executive director John Sullivan, deputy director John Hsieh, and chief technology officer Ruben Rodriguez all quit at a board meeting on Monday. A short announcement on Tuesday morning confirmed the resignations though failed to directly say who had quit – and merely linked to the FSF staff page with some members listed as "outgoing."

The announcement appears to indicate that the FSF board is determined to stick with Stallman even after a slew of organizations have pulled funding in response to his reinstallation let alone today's resignations.

Stallman ejected in 2019 as president and board member of the FSF after he insensitively downplayed the alleged rape and trafficking of a 17-year-old girl orchestrated by convicted sex offender and pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.

Richard Stallman

Richard Stallman says he has returned to the Free Software Foundation board of directors and won't be resigning again


Those comments sparked a MeToo-level backlash with women going public with their unpleasant experiences with Stallman, stretching back decades. Years of controversial comments made by Stallman over consent, particularly when it came to young and underage women, were also revisited and led to pressure on him to leave.

So when Stallman himself unexpectedly announced last week that he had rejoined the FSF board and was “not planning to resign a second time,” the news was greeted with shock by the open-source industry. Since then, Linux giant Red Hat, the Open Source Initiative, Foundation, code internship body Outreachy, the Processing Foundation, security firm Bad Packets and numerous others have said they will pull funding from the FSF and cut ties with the organization while Stallman remains on the board.

Not budging

The FSF board appears determined to stick with its decision, however.

Last week it put out a “preliminary board statement on FSF governance” that outlined a “series of changes,” but it amounted to little more than a promise to be more open about adding new board members in future. The statement was an effort to dispel concerns about Stallman's reinstallation but appeared to have the opposite effect.

Today’s announcement is similarly obstinate. “Some of our colleagues in the FSF have decided to resign,” it reads. “We are grateful for the good work they have done for so long, and we will miss them. We regret losing them; we regret the situation that has motivated them to leave.”

It goes on: “We appreciate their strong commitment to free software and we want to find replacements with a similar competence and commitment. We are open to suggestions and applications for these positions.”

The last paragraph gives an indication of the maelstrom that the FSF brought on itself but remain defiant: “Finally, we would like to thank the numerous friends across the free software movement who have recently joined as well as those who have have left and provided suggestions for helping us through this difficult time.” ®

Updated to add

"As members of FSF management, we have decided to resign, with specific end dates to be determined," said Sullivan, Hsieh, and Rodriguez in a statement.

"We believe in the importance of the FSF's mission and feel a new team will be better placed to implement recent changes in governance.

"Free software and copyleft are critical issues of our time, and the FSF is, and should continue to be, the organization leading this movement. FSF staff have our utmost respect, support, and appreciation, and it has been a privilege to work with you all. Our team's mutual goal is to ensure a smooth transition while supporting the necessary renovation of the foundation's governance."

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