Open source head sacked in racism row

The president of the Open Source Initiative (OSI) has been asked to leave his job, less than a month after taking on the post, for allegedly racist posts.

Russ Nelson was met with a unanimous board decision that he had to go for displaying a lack of judgement over a series of personal blogs entries that many felt were racist. His place has been temporarily filled by Red Hat vice president Michael Tiemann.

Nelson will remain a member of the licensing committee and will continue to serve on the OSI board. "OSI's mission is very important to me," Nelson said in a statement. "My hope is that the community can continue its focus on working together to advance the integration of open source software into the wider society."

Nelson is known for stirring up controversy in his posts to Web sites such as and his own weblog, and he indicated that he was unprepared to deal with the fallout from such comments as head of the OSI.

"I don't like politics, and it's become evident in recent weeks that OSI's role has rapidly become much more political," Nelson said in a blog entry announcing his departure. "I am not ready for the position of president; certainly not by training and perhaps not even by temperament. The entire board is unanimous in agreeing that we need a president with more political savvy than I."

The announcement was made on March 1, with Nelson's resignation backdated to Feb. 23. His appointment to the post was announced at the beginning of February. The OSI, launched in the 1990s under the leadership of Eric Raymond, manages and promotes the Open Source Definition, which underpins open-source software licenses.

Nelson is known for provocative comments mainly on economic subjects, but in a Feb. 7 post he veered into the subject of race with a post on his personal blog called "Blacks are lazy."

While Nelson says the post was intended to debunk racist ideas, it drew the ire of many in the developer community, who questioned the wisdom of appointing such a controversial figure to the post of OSI president.

"It doesn't really matter what Nelson's intentions are. The truth is he looks like a racist, he wrote an article that will appear racist to the vast majority of its readers," commented one Slashdot member.

Nelson subsequently removed the post, and later attempted to clarify his intentions with a "corrected" version called "Blacks are not lazy." In a Feb. 23 post he said his comments had been misunderstood. "I don't expect an apology. I don't even expect anybody to acknowledge that they made a mistake. I comfort myself with a personal understanding of the magnitude and consequences of their mistake," he wrote.

In comments to industry journal eWeek, Eric Raymond defended Nelson, saying the diatribes against him were "ugly and ignorant." In the same report, Larry Rosen, former OSI general counsel, agreed that Nelson was not racist, but said his choice of words had been "unfortunate."

Nelson did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Tiemann's first priority as interim president will be to add new board members, after which the search for a permanent president will begin, the OSI said. The organization is reviewing the Open Source Definition licensing process with the aim of stemming the proliferation of different open-source licenses.

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