# Can we do anything to avoid losing Bill D? [closed]

Recently I was very disturbed to learn that one of the most distinguished members of the MSE community (my former teacher, and close friend, Prof. Bill D) was suspended for 30 days, under what seems to me to be very questionable circumstances. Does the MSE community support this? BD has selflessly volunteered much of his life to carefully teaching mathematics to high standards - which is evident in his many rich contributions to MSE.

Does the MSE community think that it is fair that a moderator should be able to wield such tremendous power, completely unchecked? Since BD has been openly (constructively) critical of various moderation policies, it seems to me that there is great potential that some bias was exhibited in imposing such a drastic suspension (which afaik is unprecedented on MSE.)

I think it would be a tremendous loss if Bill leaves MSE. Unfortunately this seems to be highly likely from what I hear through the grapevine. Perhaps the MSE community can rally together to find some compromise that avoids this lose-lose scenario, and to figure out better ways to manage conflicts, so to help prevent such problems from arising in the future (recall also the similar sad loss of Robin Chapman, another stellar contributor).

Perhaps we could be so lucky to get them both back to MSE? In any case, it would be a shame to waste the chance of preventing another such loss. What can we do?

[BD has not seen this post, nor do I know if he would approve it, but I could not think of any better way to help find a solution other than posting here. I abbreviate his name in hope of saving him any further embarrasment. I recall that generally it is discouraged to mention specific names on matters like these, but there seems to be no other way to properly address this particular matter.]

Edit (1/24) Please note that there are $9$ votes not to close in a comment below. So why was the question closed? Is this MathOverflow convention not respected here?

The community can rectify this grave injustice if only it speaks. Letting such injustice stand sets a dangerous precendent. Is that truly what the community desires? Please speak up. Re-open the question and let your voice be heard. It is your community and you can (and should) ensure that decisions are made in a way that represent the best interest of the community. Decisions on delicate matters like this should most certainly not be mechanically decided based on generic SE policy. Rather they should be governed by what is in the best interest of this community.

Already Robin Chapman is lost. So to is T.., and so too (almost) Pete L. Clark. Now you risk losing BD. Who's next, Arturo? If this trend continues the site will have tremendous difficulty attracting further senior members, let alone holding on to the few who remain. Is that what you desire?

• I vote against closing this post. First, I am also interested in knowing what the "community" thinks about the suspension. Secondly, I am puzzled that the post has been voted to close without any explanation whatsoever. Personally, I think this is a constructive way to approach the obvious recent friction in the system; if someone disagrees, I would like to at least hear them out. – Srivatsan Jan 23 '12 at 22:28
• @MathGems: Regardless of your opinion that this may have had something to do with criticizing the moderators, I can certainly help being suspicious. I've been here through at least two and I think more attempted discussions like this and they are not constructive, in large part because they are lacking in substantive information and heavy on supposition and personal opinion. – Isaac Jan 23 '12 at 22:57
• The skeptic deep within me is screaming for this to be pointed out: So you made your account directly after BD's suspension, but yet somehow have an extensive knowledge of over a year an half's worth of activity on these meta forums? The two questions you answered are exactly BD's type, and written in his style. Most shocking is your English. Writing is unique to a person, and I have read enough of BD's forum posts to say this feels like his writing, and noone elses. I may be wrong, but I'll also go on a huge hunch, (almost like the basis of this question..) and say you are BD. – Eric Naslund Jan 23 '12 at 23:48
• @Eric: That's just not Bill's style. – Arturo Magidin Jan 24 '12 at 4:23
• To respond to the Edit: I am still here. I did temporarily quit at one point out of pique with "Stack Overflow Valued Associate #00001", but after sober consideration the positive aspects of participation here outweighed the negative and I came back. (And FWIW, #00001 seems to have cooled down quite a bit in the interim.) I have no strong opinion on this suspension issue for similar reasons to the others: I do not have access to all the relevant information. But do I trust the moderators to act reasonably? Yes, I do -- in fact they are the people I trust most when it comes to this... – Pete L. Clark Jan 24 '12 at 20:48
• @Math Gems: From Bill's "dossier": Feb 11, 2011: Official warning given. Requested that (i) the user be more civil (ii) the user does not bring up past interactions with other users on other fora (iii) the user not to delete answers to shed downvotes. Further violation will result in suspension. Feb 28, 2011: User suspended for 2 days for spiteful downvoting together with a previous history of troublesome behavior. Jan 23, 2012: User suspended for 30 days for being abusive to others. Why don't you talk that over with Bill and see what he says. – Zev Chonoles Jan 24 '12 at 20:50
• Please vote on this comment if you oppose the deletion of this thread. – Zev Chonoles Jan 24 '12 at 21:06
• I think this thread should stay closed and locked, but not deleted, for documentation purposes. – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Jan 24 '12 at 21:11
• I am asking the community's opinion about the deletion of this thread. Did you notice that I presented both options and did not state any opinion about which one I preferred? If 5 different 10k+ users determine that it is best for the community if this thread is deleted, so be it. I, however, am not shocked that you would claim I am attempting to "censor" you. – Zev Chonoles Jan 24 '12 at 21:25
• @MathGems: That is a distortion of what happened. Zev has provided an outlet for the community to give input on whether deletion should be supported or opposed. Since the software does not allow direct "voting-against-deleting," this is actually in the opposite direction of what you are accusing. – Jonas Meyer Jan 24 '12 at 21:30
• @Math Gems: A mod's vote to delete would have taken instantaneous effect. So, actually, we do have proof that it was not me nor any other mod. – Zev Chonoles Jan 24 '12 at 21:44
• @MathGems: Former mods are not mods. The fact that there is a vote that is not binding does establish that the vote was not cast "by Zev or a mod". I honestly think you are misinterpreting Zev's pair of comments; had he not spoken up, the votes to delete would have been essentially silent (and invisible to users without sufficient rep, if I remember correctly) and as soon as 5 users with sufficient rep voted to delete, it would have been deleted. By soliciting upvotes in comments (which requires less rep) he is polling lower rep users and getting "opposed-to-delete" 'votes'. – Arturo Magidin Jan 24 '12 at 22:00
• @MathGems Please stop pretending that you are some kind of representative of the community. Your edit and your comments suggest that you seem to think that the majority of the community shares your opinions but is too afraid of the evil, all-powerful moderators' wrath. The community has plenty of ways of expressing consent of otherwise by voting on comments, answers, etc. So kindly let everyone speak for himself and try to keep the polemics and the unwarranted accusations down. P.S. I am not a mod, I have never been one, nor do I intend to become one, in case any of this matters to you. – Alex B. Jan 25 '12 at 0:27
• You should understand, though. The moderators are part of the community. They are not some external admins, they are people that works hard to be recognized and were elected by the community. This means that not only they have a vote of confidence from the community, but also that their opinions are valid as members of the site just as my opinion is valid, just as yours is valid. Talking in superlatives and claiming that everyone that speaks against you has some bias is just wrong. – Asaf Karagila Jan 25 '12 at 0:48
• Also, any user with 3k or more reputation can vote to close or reopen. 5 such users (me and 4 others) voted to close. Thus far, no one has voted to reopen. There are at least 130 users who could vote to reopen, having at least 3k reputation and not having voted to close and not being moderators. – Isaac Jan 25 '12 at 3:26

I am offended by your accusation that any of the moderators acted out of retaliation for Bill's criticisms of the site's policies. As far as you indicate in your post, you have no idea what the circumstances are - you simply assume that they are very questionable. Perhaps it would have been more prudent to keep that assumption to yourself until the facts of the case came out.

Moreover, we are accountable to the StackExchange team; see the answers to this meta.SO question for example.

As to the actual circumstances: Willie Wong suspended Bill for his comments on this answer, which were flagged as rude/offensive. Bill was suspended once before for this kind of behavior and more generally has a history of occasionally interacting uncivilly with other users. Of course, his contributions to math.SE have been immensely valuable, but that doesn't put him above the system. The system-recommended suspension length for the second serious issue is 30 days. I think there is room to argue that Bill should have received a reduced sentence. But the kind of behavior displayed in that thread is inappropriate and should (and will) be met with a suspension regardless of the user who perpetrates it.

In response to the recent edit:

Firstly, votes to not close do not have any official status on math.SE, though as a new user (or, perhaps, "new user"?) I would not expect you to know that.

Secondly, there is only one vote to not close, with 9 people expressing their sympathy with at least one part of Srivatsan's comment - even the convention on MO is that only users who can vote to close are able to vote to not close, and no one else has explicitly done so.

Thirdly, closing questions is a mechanism for the community to let its voice be heard, while you're trying to portray it as anything but. In my opinion, and I'm sure many others' as well, closing this question (which is really more of a rant at this point) is in the best interest of the community.

Fourthly, your melodramatic language and talk of "grave injustice" is absurd, wins over no one, and devalues the many actual injustices that occur in this world. I am sure Bill will be able to survive not using this site for another 28 days.

Fifthly and finally, Robin Chapman and Pete Clark left due to conflicts with SE employees and your including them in this discussion is extremely disingenuous (I am not aware of why T. left).

• No offense was intended. I happen to have much knowledge of these matters since I am a very close friend of BDs, and we have for many years discussed matters relating to sci.math, MSE, etc on a frequent basis. I don't agree that the suspension was merited. Nor do I think that the majority of the community would agree with such if they saw what prompted it. IMO, having seen some of the personal emails that WW sent to BD (which you may have not), there can be no doubt that WW was biased when making such a decision. Due to recent prior strong words between them, WW should have recused himself. – Math Gems Jan 23 '12 at 23:15
• Since it came up, here is a relevant reference for a previous suspension: meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/1720/… – Jonas Meyer Jan 23 '12 at 23:41
• @MathGems: Perhaps I should have used a smiley to indicate that I was being whimsical. I was responding to where you wrote "please don't quote me" about your descriptions which are already posted as an exact quote directly from you. :) Please don't take it too seriously; I do understand the meaning of the expression. – Jonas Meyer Jan 24 '12 at 1:58
• @Math Gems: None of the moderators have done anything here to discourage the involvement of the community, and the community is actively involved here - your post currently has 400 views and 25 votes. Understandably, you don't like it when the community is involved and the outcome is not exactly what you want. – Zev Chonoles Jan 24 '12 at 20:45
• The question was closed by 5 people, of whom one was Isaac. I am sure you are not implying in any way the other four are of such poor judgement that they mindlessly followed suit? I have checked the IPs of those four users and they are different from Isaac's, so this is not a case of suckpuppetry, at least! – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Jan 24 '12 at 21:08
• You wrote that you saw Isaac doing all he can to get the question closed, but I observed that four other people —who we can assume acted out of their own free will— also voted to close. None of whom are or were moderators of the site, as far as I know. – Mariano Suárez-Álvarez Jan 24 '12 at 21:13
• FWIW: I am not a current or former moderator, and the input from the current and former moderators does not make me fearful. – Jonas Meyer Jan 24 '12 at 21:14
• @Math Gems: And what are the main issues, if not 1: the reasons for Bill's suspension, 2: an explanation of the accountability of the site moderators, 3: your accusations that all moderators past and present (as well as many other highly ranked users) are engaged in a conspiracy against Bill? – Zev Chonoles Jan 24 '12 at 21:19
• By the way, when I spend copious amounts of my free time helping the community and am accused of being as base as to attempt to stifle people who disagree with me, I am offended. – Zev Chonoles Jan 24 '12 at 21:21
• Dear Zev, I am grateful for both the time spent and for the quality of the moderation you do. (Same goes for all of our community moderators.) Thank you. Sincerely, – Jonas Meyer Jan 24 '12 at 21:25
• @Math Gems: In all of your experience moderating, were you ever granted mind control powers? I certainly wasn't. Your post was closed by 5 members of the community because it would "likely solicit opinion, debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion". That is exactly what has happened, and is continuing to happen, regardless of the closure. I say that demonstrates it ought to have been closed. If you think that that's not a good reason for closure, take it up with the SE team. – Zev Chonoles Jan 24 '12 at 21:58
• This is almost nonsensical (a word which, surprisingly, is not caught by my spell-checker). I only just now caught this, but I wanted it down that in this exchange, I stand by Zev and the other moderators. I understand why he feels offended, and I credit his patience. While I understand that this might be construed as my 'being influenced... by a campaign to close' this thread, I say that would be an aggrandized claim. – davidlowryduda Jan 25 '12 at 2:22
• he refused to say it explicitly and left Paul increasingly frustrated, because Paul considered this fact to be something low-level enough that it did not need to be stated explicitly (that each of them felt this way was not clear to the other). I think the turning point was when Bill said "If you handed that "proof" into my elementary number theory class you'd get zero credit." and "Alas, your remarks indicate that you have absolutely no clue what is essential to successfully teach (elementary) number theory." I consider this inappropriate, especially given the extremely minor nature of Paul's – Zev Chonoles Jan 27 '12 at 3:36
• "mistake". Together with Bill's history of incivility, I think this warrants some suspension. I cannot speak to Willie's state of mind, but I imagine he began the suspension process and observed that the recommended length for the second serious issue was 30 days. However, as I say in my post, I think there's room to argue that a smaller duration was more appropriate. Perhaps if "Math Gems" had asked that Bill's suspension be reduced, a moderator would have happily obliged and we'd all be dealing with less idiotic things than accusations of censorship, unchecked power, grave injustice, etc. – Zev Chonoles Jan 27 '12 at 3:38
• @Myself Please see everything written by the user Math Gems for indisputable evidence of Math Gems' bias. In case you may not be aware, Bill has also frequently un constructively criticized the moderation policy. This apparently sparked some hostile comments and emails from Bill (the user who recently unjustly accused the moderators of stifling freedom of speech). Note also that the thread will not be deleted, since the moderators can overturn a deletion and we want to keep this thread as a record of Math Gems' (and our own) actions. So much for responsible use of freedom of speech. – Zev Chonoles Jan 27 '12 at 6:14

The comment thread became slightly uncivil but I think a 30-day suspension is too harsh. That is a long enough time for a person to find entirely different hobbies and it is sure to make one feel unwelcome. Perhaps it is an appropriate way to deal with a person posting profanity or plagiarism but that is not the case here.

Certainly established and valued users should be subject to the same standards as everyone else, but maybe the standards should be changed? Why 30 days and not e.g. 3?

• Ignoring this specific situation, I believe it's fairly standard for a second suspension from an SE site to be 30 days (as a partial answer to your "why" question). edit my recollection as to the source on this was incorrect; it had been suggested to me some time ago that the suspensions should progress 2 days, 7 days, 30 days, 1 year. – Isaac Jan 24 '12 at 0:03
• It would make sense for this escalation to be reset periodically. I've never been suspended but I've occasionally behaved in ways that might have warranted it and I would guess the same is true for most of us. If the counter is never reset then I imagine everyone is guaranteed to strike out eventually after some number of years. – Dan Brumleve Jan 24 '12 at 0:10
• As a fairly new member of this community, I believe given BD's reputation, 30-day is indeed too harsh. But disagree about finding "different hobbies". (Surely math must be life for a mathematician!) Going back to length, reason why 30 day is because in this line of field, even a day can stunt progress. (Again I am not cognizant of the details of what rights are taken away ie if suspension is of IP?). I for one feel a community would be more productive from his input than an isolated case of him 'losing it' which caused his suspension. – Sniper Clown Jan 24 '12 at 5:10
• @Mahmud, if I were to be suspended for 30 days I might very well take up knitting in the interim and never return again. I'm somewhat impulsive and attention-deficient so I'm sure this doesn't apply to everyone. But I also suspect many of us are repelled by rejection. – Dan Brumleve Jan 24 '12 at 5:18
• I have no idea where to leave this comment, but I certainly agree that 30 days is too long. As a student, I find Bill's answers to be some of the most enlightening. I can't comment on what transpired, but the idea of 30 days without such beautiful, elegant, and elucidating answers is quite sad (IF he comes back?). – Tyler Jan 24 '12 at 18:56

No one, except possibly the suspended user and possibly the moderators and administrators of the site, can be certain that they have complete knowledge of this type of situation. Given that and given that previous such discussions (and there have been previous such discussions) have not been constructive, I do not think this is a constructive approach to the situation. In saying that, I feel compelled to suggest a potential alternative approach. It is possible to contact the site administration via the "contact us" link at the bottom of the page, which is a mailto: link. When you believe that moderator(s) have acted inappropriately, I think that contacting the site administration is the most constructive possible course of action.

• I can email you the screen grab that I saw that proves what I wrote. The mods can confirm that only that one comment has been deleted. They would have corrected me by now if it were false. I'm perplexed why you seem to want to imply that there is more to the matter than is true. In full disclosure, perhaps you should reveal that you too were once a moderator. Please keep in mind that your opinions on this matter are no doubt colored by your analogous moderator experiences, perhaps with BD or other users. – Math Gems Jan 24 '12 at 5:15
• @MathGems: It's entirely possible that there were other comments that were removed automatically by user flags, which neither you nor the moderators saw. I'm not implying there's more to the matter, but I am explicitly stating that it is not possible for me to have enough information for certain to have a constructive discussion about whether the suspension was warranted or not and I am suggesting that it is equally impossible for nearly anyone else to have enough information either. – Isaac Jan 24 '12 at 5:20
• @MathGems: Also, to be clear, I have not said if I agree or disagree with your assessment of the situation as fair or unfair. What I have consistently said is that we (the community as a whole, but myself specifically) lack the information to constructively engage in this type of conversation about any suspended user ever. My opinion of the user in question and my history as a moderator are irrelevant to that claim. – Isaac Jan 24 '12 at 5:27
• I don't know of any prior discussions that are analogous to this. But I do think that if there are questions of possible (subconscious) moderator bias involved in a heavy-handed decision that could have a large negative impact on contributions to this site, then that is something that is surely on-topic on meta. Of course I don't blame you for being sympathetic to the plight of moderators in such circumstances. That's only natural considering you were a mod in the beginning, when the site was less stable. – Math Gems Jan 24 '12 at 5:36
• @MathGems: You have been a member of this site for 2 days, so it is not surprising that you don't know of any prior discussions that are analogous to this. It is surprising that you are willing to ascribe motivations to my actions based on what you claim the site was like 15+ months ago. – Isaac Jan 24 '12 at 5:43
• No, I have visited the site probably thousands of times, going way back to its inception. – Math Gems Jan 24 '12 at 6:08
• BD has assured me that there are no other deleted comments, either by him or P. So could you please stop making speculations about such. – Math Gems Jan 24 '12 at 18:08
• If that is true (that what is there now is what was there originally), it seems to me to be a minor disagreement and feelings were hurt. I realize we want to make people feel comfortable on a site like this and we are here to help, but surely, sooner or later offense will be taken. 30 days seems a steep sentence. Much worse things could have happened. – Tyler Jan 24 '12 at 22:07