Duke Uni libraries decamp from 37Signals' Basecamp over CTO's blogs

We're canceling our subscriptions, say librarians citing co-founder's views

The Duke University Libraries have decided to stop using 37Signal's Basecamp project management software after almost a decade due to public statements from the supplier's co-founder and chief technology officer.

"We came to this decision after weighing the level of its use in our organization, which is considerable, against the harms that we see perpetuated by the leadership of Basecamp’s parent company, 37signals," Will Sexton, the library system's head of software, platforms, and strategies, said on Thursday.

"As a result of our discussions, we will not renew our current subscription when it ends in December."

Sexton describes the decision by the American university's librarians as one that has been building since at least 2021 following the publication of reports about a poorly received corporate policy to discourage political discussions at work.

The harms cited include the "many ... distortions in the blog posts by David Heinemeier Hansson," co-founder and CTO of 37Signals, and Creator of Ruby on Rails.

According to Sexton, Hansson's observations about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives; the US Supreme Court's rejection of race-based admissions; and Meta's policies about avoiding politically sensitive topics at work represent "a thread of ugly thought."

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In lieu of enumerating every point of disagreement, Sexton focused on a few passages he felt ran contrary to the values of the Duke University Libraries. From a blog post by Hansson titled, "The waning days of DEI’s dominance," Sexton challenged Hansson's use of the term "riots" to describe the protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police.

"Research and the documentary record show that the protests of 2020 were overwhelmingly peaceful, that incidents of violence were limited and often instigated by counter protestors or provocateurs, and that in many cases the responses of the police and federal authorities provoked and exacerbated the violence," argues Sexton.

"The characterization of these events as 'riots' followed as part of a deliberate disinformation campaign by right-wing groups, media’s distorting focus on isolated incidents, and biased framing by political campaigns."

Sexton also scolds Hansson for taking "glee in the mass layoffs of tech workers in late 2022," and for implying that "he and perhaps other tech bosses might blacklist workers who have records of advocating for more diverse and inclusive workplaces."


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Sexton goes on to say that while Duke University Libraries are not trying to enforce any ideological orthodoxy and while Hansson is entitled to his opinions, the libraries are also entitled to choose their business partners.

As Elon Musk has found from companies withdrawing their ads from X/Twitter, free speech isn't necessarily free of consequences or reactions.

In an email to The Register, Sexton and Tim McGeary, Associate University Librarian for Digital Strategies and Technology, said the amount 37Signals stands to lose is not significant and thus the libraries' protest isn't likely to elicit a response from the software maker. However, they said they've been encouraged by the response they've received since making the post.

"In the brief time since the post went up, we have received a number of supportive and encouraging messages from our peers in higher education and libraries," said Sexton and McGeary. "Some have relayed that they made a similar decision while others shared appreciation for this expression of our values. So far those communications have been private so we’d prefer not to divulge anything more."

The Register asked Hansson and Jason Fried, co-founder and CEO, to comment, and neither immediately responded. ®

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