In March 2019, I resigned as President of the IA Institute due relentless online bullying due to conflict over the Institute’s involvement in the IA Conference 2019. As the Institute has now communicated to its membership about these events, I am able to respond to my critics and their misinformation and intentional falsehoods.
From IA Institute June 1 2019 Letter to Community:
There have been open questions around the recent transition in the presidency for the IA Institute. In the spirit of transparency, we’d like to provide a brief summary of the actions that took place. When we announced the election results on March 20th, we also announced that Amy Espinosa had been appointed president in accordance with section of 7.4 of our bylaws. We had a few members reach out to us wanting to know a bit more detail surrounding this matter.
We would like to take a moment to briefly explain what happened. After a petition was circulated on social media in January, calling for the resignation of Marianne Sweeny, the board held two meetings to discuss the matter. In the first, Marianne asked members of the board if she should step down. Board members present acknowledged the petition but unanimously agreed that Marianne should stay (4 members present, 1 absent, Marianne excluded). During our second meeting Marianne announced that after thoughtful consideration, she believed her resignation would help the vitality of the Institute. She put forth a motion to appoint Amy Espinosa as President. The motion passed unanimously (5 members voted, 1 absent). Marianne stayed on the board to ensure we had the help we needed to see us through our elections and fundraising workshop at the IA Conference. Her official resignation was submitted on March 17th, 2019. In the time that she served, Marianne helped the Institute significantly reduce operating expenses, which included a 48% reduction in website maintenance expenses and a 53% reduction in cost for our membership platform. We are grateful for her service and her contributions, all which have moved our organization towards a more sustainable future.
“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
It has been a long quiet since the horrible-to-the-point-of-surreal events that occurred during the final months of my tenure as President of the Information Architecture Institute (IA Institute). When it was evident that a vocal-splinter-mob was not interested in facts and conditions surrounding the IA Institute’s involvement in the IA Conference 2019, my silence seemed the only way to move on. Now that the IA Institute has publish the sequence of events surrounding my departure in March, I am able to respond directly to those who have misrepresented my words and actions while President of the IAI.
Even though I have studied information filter bubbles and echo chambers extensively, it never occurred to me that I would find these pitfalls in a community of information professionals. Not only do they exist, they are accompanied by a back-up band comprised of a vocal-splinter-mob, back-channel dealings, purposeful misinformation mixed in with crybullying and trollish behavior borrowed from the ALT right playbook. I expected to find the respected professionals that I admired and thought I knew; whose conference presentations on empathy, proper research, context and design thinking I had deeply admired. As a result of this experience, I learned tribalism can supersede professionalism.
Emma Chittenden, whom I have no recollection of ever meeting, was the first crybully to appear with her factually incorrect, filled with speculation and innuendo, petition for my recall. I have no idea where she got the information below. I am sure that it was not from individuals who had her best interests in mind.
I have added my responses inline for context.
- The president decided to reopen a resolved CoC complaint without notification to the affected parties, or reference to any procedures or standards. In doing so she acted outside her authority, and such actions were inappropriate.
MKS: Not True. I voted twice against taking on the conference as there was so much darkness around what happened last year and so much chaos around what was going on for the IA Conference (IAC) 2019. A renewed investigation idea was proposed by the Board member who left shortly after the vote. The IA Institute Board voted to take on IAD 2019 with the condition that the investigation be reopened and conducted by a professional conflict mediation firm.
- The president took these actions without disclosing or acknowledging that she has a longstanding friendship with the person against whom the CoC complaint was filed.
MKS: Not True. Many Board members, including the individual who is a founder of the IAF, knew of my friendship with the accused. As a victim of sustained sexual harassment and with a dear friend who is one of the courageous individuals that came forward to bring down Leslie Moonves for true predatory behavior, I would never tolerate such behavior from friend or stranger and have stated so publicly. I was protecting the IA Institute From being named in litigation resulting from the IAC 2018 complaints that, despite many reassurances to the contrary, is likely to continue to Deposition and Discovery, if not trial. An irony of this accusation is that almost everyone involved in this matter has aligned themselves using friendship instead of fact.
- The president has been using the IA Institute Twitter account to voice her private opinions, speaking in the first person, as if on behalf of the Institute, without the Board’s or membership’s knowledge or direction.
MKS: Not true. What is your source for confidential Board information? The Board was aware of the individuals posting to the IA Institute social accounts at this time. Also, there have been many references to “offensive” and “unprofessional” tweets. Yet only one example presented, the infamous Actually Karen tweet. This tweet stated the truth. At that time, the IA Institute did not have sufficient information to answer the questions posed. The intent of the IA Institute Board was to retain the services of a professional conflict mediation firm to circumvent any legal challenges to the outcome. The organization was not allowed to do that once the IAC 2019 Co-chairs repudiated their agreement to this course of action. As a result, legal action followed and continues.
- The president has blocked members of the IA community from the IAI Twitter account, thereby silencing voices of the IAI community on an important matter and denying those voices the opportunity to participate in a discussion in a public forum. Despite evidence to the contrary, she continues to deny having done so.
MKS Not True. No one involved with the complaints, failed initial investigation or vocal-splinter-mob have been or were blocked from the IA Institute twitter account.
- The president has demonstrated a general inability to respond professionally in a public forum.
MKS: Not True. No matter what my response was, if it was not the response that the vocal-splinter-mob wanted to hear, it was deemed unprofessional.
- In an attempt to avoid accountability, the president has falsely stated that the IA Conference is a free-standing legal entity that is unrelated to the IAI–and implied this prevents the association from taking any meaningful action. She takes this stance despite the fact that she took actions to reopen the CoC case.
MKS: Not true. The IA Conference is a free-standing event that was created by The IA Foundation, a private company established to produce the IA Foundation with financial underwriting from a private event planner. There was no other executive or professional sponsorship prior to the IAI assuming responsibility with the December 2018 Board vote.
The IA Foundation approached the IA Institute to take over “sponsorship” of the IA Conference because…you’ll have to ask the founders. The IAI Board accepted the IA Conference under the condition of a reopened investigation that included a temporary restraint from registration. The 2018 investigation, as told to the Board, was, at best ad hoc and, at worst, clumsy. I reiterate that I did not present the renewed investigation and voted against any involvement with IAC 2019, both times.
- During this time of community crisis, the president has ignored or dismissed multiple calls from the membership to clarify the situation and respond to questions. Her few responses have been informal, unprofessional, and rather than clarifying the situation have muddied the waters and frankly deepened our distrust of her leadership.
MKS: Not True. There were multiple attempts to clarify the situation that were shouted down or ignored. Two letters to the community were sent in email and posted to the IA Institute website. Neither were acknowledged by the vocal-splinter-mob. They are still available online, IA Institute communication Jan 26 2019 and IA Institute communication Feb 3 2019.
- The president has repeatedly stated that the issues will be handled transparently. Yet she failed to disclose to the complainant or the community that she was willingly sharing the CoC complaint and previous complaints with the accused’s legal counsel. This was being done without a court order. We find this a gross conflict of interest and clearly favouring one party over another.
MKS: Not true. Again, what is the source of your information Emma? At no time did the IA Institute provide any documentation or information regarding the IA Conference 2018 complaints to the accused legal counsel. Neither the IAF founders nor the IAC 2019 conference cochairs indicated that Emma’s communication protocol with the complainants was in place. I can find no disclosures to the community from the IAF founders or the IA Conference cochairs on the original investigation and findings. Why is the IAI being called out for not doing something that it could not do and they did not do.?
Dylan Wilbanks is an active member of the vocal-splinter-mob. In February, he poured out his righteous indignation in a Medium post. It is hard to take the anything from seriously from an individual that co-opts a legitimate (and successful) movement to expose serious and sustained predatory behavior so that he can pass out jokey #actuallykaren buttons at the IXDA 2019 conference in Seattle. That is a new low.
Here are my answers, at long last.
- When did the IA Institute apologize to Lynn for failing to communicate their decision re: opening an investigation into the conclusions?
MKS: The big question is why should we? Does this named individual have a special interest in these matters that you’d like to expound on Dylan? If the Conference cochairs and/or the IAF founders included the person named in all matters concerning the complaints from IAC 2018, they did not communicate this to the IA Institute.
- Other than a single tweet that referenced her handle, why has the Institute not communicated directly with Lynn?
MKS: See above. Again, Dylan, why should the person named be kept in the know?
- Who speaks for IAI? Who is the person acting as the single voice of the IA Institute Twitter account?
MKS: With the departure of the Communications Director immediately after the successful Board vote to take on the conference, two individuals were posting to the account.
- What are the consequences of the President using the IA Institute twitter account to directly talk with a single individual in the community?
MKS: None. The “direct” communication was in response to a direct question publicly made by the individual.
- One of the board members referenced a need for empathy during the crisis (and perhaps implying critics lacked that empathy). How does the board define empathy? What does the board think empathy for victims of harassment looks like?
MKS: I believe that, as a user experience professional, you likely knows what empathy is. Empathy is coming to a situation with a direct understanding of what the experience is like. As opposed to sympathy which is an intellectual understanding of what the experience must be like. Members of the board are in a position to be empathetic as well as sympathetic to victims of sexual harassment and assault.
- Is a tweet on a board member’s personal account to be considered the same as a statement from the IAI organization?
MKS: No. My personal account was used to promote personal interests and opinions. Once the vocal-splinter-mob made me the target of their online bullying, I discontinued responding through both accounts. It was clear that reasonable discourse was not possible. Having left the position as President of the IA Institute, I am free to comment anything that I wish.
- Does the IAI have a social media strategy in place? If not, when will one be created and executed against?
MKS: Neither the departing Director of Communication or the previous director left one.
- Which officer(s) are directly responsible for all outbound communications? Will they bear responsibility for misuse of those communications channels?
MKS: There was no misuse of communication channels. The non-social account communications were developed by members of the Board and approved for release by the entire Board prior to publication.
- What mistakes has the board identified that they made, individually and collectively, in handling the code of conduct violation Lynn filed? What corrective actions will they take as a result?
MKS: The Board made no mistakes as it was not given the opportunity to do so. Once the IAC 2019 Co Chairs repudiated their agreement to the temporary restraining order, (conceived by a Board member who chose to remain publicly silent on the matter), the IA Institute released a statement of agreement with the IAC 2019 cochairs plan of action.
Also, I believe that is unwise to reveal the name of one of the complainants in a public medium. The named individual has been vociferous in her demands that her information not be made available. The real question is how you know this information. Your disclosure reveals the existence of pervasive and toxic back channel communications that surrounding this matter from the beginning.
- Does the board understand how serious the concerns of the IAI membership and senior community leaders are? What steps are they taking to demonstrate they are taking the problem seriously?
MKS: Please offer suggestions on how the current Board might do this.
- Who does the IAI identify as founders? How were they consulted?
MKS: You will find information about the founders at IAinistitute.org. Yes, they were consulted throughout by email and directly by a Board liaison.
- Were senior community leaders consulted individually? If not, why not?
MKS: Yes, they were.
- Who is ultimately responsible for code of conduct violations? If it’s the WIAD and IAC, will the IAI stand behind them as their sponsoring organization?
MKS: The IAF founders are a better resource for this question. Between them, they have spent significant funds on legal counsel for these issues. Sigh, it seems that this will be up to the courts to decide.
- If the IAI has concerns with the IA Foundation and IA Summit codes of conduct as they were written, what experts in the field of conference safety are they in contact with and receiving feedback from? If not, when can we expect to see this engagement?
MKS: The departed Director of Development was working on a Code of Conduct. Perhaps you can call this individual out to answer the question?
- The IAI merged development and treasurer roles together with the most recent by-law change. A few people in the community have wondered if this were irregular for an NPO governing structure. Could the IAI point us to example NPOs with this structure?
MKS: It is not irregular for the individual responsible for revenue to also be in charge of expenses. I have yet to hear a persuasive argument against this change as voted into effect by a majority of the Board.
- In the by-law changes, did they remove term limits for officers and/or board members? (Update: The new by-laws remove a provision in section 6.3 limiting directors to two consecutive terms in office.) If so, why? If so, when was this to be communicated to the membership?
MKS: Term requirements are no longer needed. If someone comes in who is doing a good job and wants to continue, why limit such talent? Changes to the By-laws are communicated in the Annual Report. I can find no separate communication to membership for the last change to the By-laws.
- Did the board communicate the by-law change proposal to its members before the vote, and how? If they didn’t, should they be required to in the future?
MKS: No. There is no requirement to do so. It has not been done in the past for by-law changes. If you believe this should not be the case, please take it up with the new Board. I would do so sooner rather than later as the IA Institute may not be around much longer.
- The statement from the IAI touts successes with cost-cutting. What is the current financial situation of the IAI?
MKS: Tragic and unsustainable.
- The board has seen two high-profile resignations since December. Why is this happening? How will the board address the concerns of members that see these resignations as a poor reflection on the IA community?
MKS: The Board was told that one left as because of work commitments and the other because of the by-laws change. I have not heard, nor read, of any concerns from the community regarding these departures.
- The perception of many in the IA community is that the IAI centered on protecting the career of the serial harasser rather than on the women he has harassed and fondled over the years. Whom does the IAI center their work on? How will the IAI address community leaders demanding we shift our focus towards “people of color, queer people, women, disabled people, neurologically diverse people?”
MKS: We were presented with no evidence or information about a pattern of behavior. We had only the failed investigation from 2018 to go on. There were plans and ideas to diversify the community. What was lacking is funding. You could ask the president who initiated the expensive platform change why that was more important than outreach and education.
Perhaps Paul can take up a more direct role with another professional community should the IA Institute breathe its last.
- Board elections are this month, in February. Are nominations open? When is the election? When will this info be made available to us?
MKS: A stellar Board and I wish them the best.
- During the next election, will the two open seats on the board be filled by a plebiscite? If not, what is the board’s process for filling those vacancies, and how will they determine whom to appoint to fill these vacancies? Will the board consider letting the community vote to fill these vacancies in lieu of the by-laws vaguely stating the board can choose whom to appoint?
MKS: The vacancies were filled by the post-election Board.
- What is the purpose of the IAI?
MKS: Most recently to be a human shield for the IAF actions and for the IAC2019 cochairs poor decisions.
- Is the IAI still essential to the IA community?
MKS: Evidently not.
I Should Have Known Better
When the current President asked me to run for the office of President of the IA Institute, I should have known that there was a catch. The fact that I ran unopposed was another clue. It was my hubris that blinded me. The office presented me with an opportunity to work from the inside out to make the IA Institute the vibrant, effective and future-thinking organization it should be. Once elected, I looked at the financial reporting from the beginning, charted revenue and expenses and found there were insufficient funds to last the year. How could this be when there had been a six-figure reserve in 2010?
- One of the founding fathers offered a $10,000 grant to initiate a 2-tier membership model, Paid and Free. There was no difference between the two models. The initial grant was an insufficient replace when membership revenue took a steep drop as the number paid membership plummeted.
- Peter Merholtz’s brilliant IDEA Conference, a significant source of revenue was abandoned after 2010. WIAD, a cost center for the IA Institute, took its place. Less revenue and more expenses.
- In 2016, the IAI moved to Drupal, a temperamental, open source content management platform. This was an extraordinary move for a static content site, run by volunteers, none of whom would likely be Drupal developers. More extraordinary was the retention of a UK development firm to execute on this and who would maintain the site with a contracted 5 hours of development time for $750 a month. It cost the IA Institute additional funds in international wire transfer fees for every invoice paid.
- Overly expensive and underused membership software that cost $500 a month.
- Termination of professional accounting services that conveniently hid the emerging crisis.
Addressing the dire financial landscape that we inherited became of urgent focus. An immediate infusion of cash was needed and sadly not forthcoming. And so we set off on the road to perdition.
- Bullying the beleaguered IA Institute into taking on the toxic IAC 2019 was successful this time due to the back-channel efforts of two newly elected Board members and a purposeful campaign of misinformation by a vocal-splinter-mob. Ironically, one of these ex-Board members will be named in any continuing litigation as they held a corporate office at the time of the vote.
- This was never about “believing” those who filed complaints at IAC 2018 and it was not about making IAC 2019 safe by banning the accused. If that were the case, the temporary restraint order achieved that goal. This was about vengeful public shaming for past un-enumerated past transgressions.
- There was no hope for a reasonable outcome once the IAC 2019 Co-chairs repudiated their agreement to conditions of the IAI taking on the Conference
At no time did the IA Conference 2019 co-chairs stipulate conditions for taking on the Conference directly to myself or the Board. As a result of this action, along with a delay in announcing the program and opening registration, the IAC2019 financial partner lost a substantial amount of money on the conference. I’m not sure how that constitutes success in the eyes of the closing plenary other than neither he nor the conference co-chairs were financially responsible in the end.
- I was asked to believe without question the complaints from IAC 2018. However, I never received the same courtesy.
- Under NO circumstances is it okay to link from global site navigation to a Google Sheets file.
- Those who chose to remain on 2018-2019 IAI Board and live up to their commitments, have my undying admiration for their dedication to their roles, hard work and strong integrity.
- The Courts have found that professional organizations must adhere to the basic tenants of US Justice as stipulated in the Constitution; that all accused are guaranteed the right to know what they are accused of and by whom.
- It is better to fight one’s own battles directly. To the one who initiated this campaign years ago to achieve what she herself cannot name, I say this. I deeply regret your trauma. I hope and pray that you find solace and help to move beyond. The methods that you used did not achieve the outcome you wished for; unless that was the demise of the IA Institute.
- Amy Espinosa is 10 of the best people I have found in this community that I leave behind. If previous Boards had listened to her, had she been elevated to President sooner, this entire scenario would be different. She is a magician and I light candles at church every week that her magic is strong enough to lead the IAI out of these dark times.
I risked a lot to revive the IAI and failed. I no longer feel safe in a community that promotes empathy and exhibits none, that encourages context yet jumps to conclusions with little or none. My social channels are cleansed of all contacts from this community. All that remains is a deep sense of longing for the delusion that we all cared about making the complex clear and each other.
Trevor Noah, in his book Born a Crime, writes: “Failure is an answer. Regret is an eternal question.” I failed to lead the IA Institute back to stable ground. At least I tried. No regrets.