Dear Mr. Atwood,
I have been an active user on Math.SE for several months now. I have enjoyed participation in the website together with the interaction with other mathematicians that it has brought me. I have learned much from the answers provided me by experts, and I am glad to have contributed answers of my own too. Nonetheless, I am concerned about certain trends in the past few days. I would like to voice my concerns here.
There has been nontrivial tension between some users of this website and the moderators, over various issues ranging from copyright to suspensions. The details of this are familiar history to readers. I think this is only natural in a growing website. My experience from MO and the meta.MO site is that occasional sharp discussions and debates can be productive. As long as there is significant community support for the moderators, and as long as flamewars are checked, initial friction in a website that takes actions such as closing questions is quite reasonable. While I disagreed with some of the decisions of the moderators, I did not see systemic community opposition to them. I also saw no concern about civility, at least until recently; if anything, I would have preferred more openness from the moderators and from StackExchange. (This is not to deny that there were, in fact, problems, but they seemed to be improving slowly over time, at least.)
Nonetheless, it appears to me that you have, as of late, replaced the elected moderators. Save for Isaac's resignation, I hardly see them at all anymore. I do not see significant community support behind this. On the contrary, it seems, in fact, that you have violated many community norms that have been established over time on meta.MSE. For instance, the deletion of comments without copying to meta have been frowned upon in the past. As another example, you have suggested that accomplished mathematician Pete Clark should leave and taken what seems to me an unnecessarily personal and confrontational attitude in your conversations with him. As yet another--to me, very serious--example, you have locked a post of Bill Dubuque that raised a legitimate concern. It is, of course, not expected a priori that you would be familiar with community norms, but I think it necessary if one is going to exert control over the community.
For these reasons, I would like to suggest that, regardless of whether one holds another moderator election, power be returned to the elected moderators. They are not uncontroversial, of course, but they have contributed much mathematically to the website, and have earned our respect that way. You have of course contributed to this website in a very fundamental way---its existence---but not to its content. This is not unreasonable, of course. Nonetheless, I think it would be desirable, for the sake of the community, to step back and allow for a less heavy-handed approach to moderation, especially one led by other experts. The users of this website are, after all, not immature children; they include college professors and other PhDs.
I am also deeply concerned about the recent extended suspension of the user 97832123. I do not agree with everything he has said in the past. On the other hand, his comments in Dr. Clark's answer (now deleted) struck me as hardly abusive, even if they were critical. I find it disturbing that he has been suspended until 2012, an effective ban, for such words. I believe that such actions make meta.MSE into a place deeply hostile to criticism (something which I think has happened in the past already, but it is significantly accentuated with such a drastic measure). Espcially since intellectual criticism is integral to academic progress, I strongly oppose his suspension, and request that it be overturned, or at least that a compelling reason be provided on meta.
I hope it is also clear that I do not write this out of malice or spite. I have no interest in this letter other than in the welfare of the present website. I am simply a normal, non-expert user of this website and intend to remain one. I consider Math.SE a good idea, and would like to see it grow.
I am posting this as an open letter in order that the community may signal its approval or disapproval. I hope you will consider it.