Editorial Position: Sakai Foundation Board Members should be from Higher Education

This is only my own personal editorial opinion. I wanted to share it before the nominees for the Sakai Board are announced.

I would like to suggest that we choose to elect board members exclusively from higher education and choose not to elect anyone from a for-profit company. At some future point, my opinion is that we may even want to amend our bylaws to this effect. But for now, I think that it is sufficient for the Sakai Foundation voters to simply choose to elect board members from higher education.

I am making this suggestion to insure that the core values of the Sakai Foundation focus on the nurturing of the Higher Education backbone of the Sakai community.

Much of the reason that Sakai was formed was to insure that the higher education community has an alternative to a commercial product. At the same time, we chose an open source license (Apache-style) which is as commercial-friendly as possible to encourage the broadest possible commercial ecosystem around Sakai. We consciously wanted to give companies large and small an opportunity to make money off and add value to the Sakai intellectual property.

Our commercial partners are very important to making Sakai available to organizations that do not have the technical expertise to be full-participants in the software creation process – and it is completely healthy for companies to make money off services around Sakai.

However, these companies have a core purpose – to make money. The Universities which contribute nearly all of the intellectual property which makes up Sakai – set their priorities based on their institution’s needs. A company which is monetizing Sakai will set priorities based on how *their particular company* can best monetize Sakai. Different companies will likely have different views as to what is the most important task to maximize profit for one particular company. It is fine for companies to have these priorities – it is *not fine* for these priorities to find their way into the Sakai Foundation’s priorities through the Board of Directors.

Having one or two companies on the Sakai board allows those companies to influence the investment of Sakai Foundation resources based on the priorities of those companies with board seats. To be fair we should either allow all commercial partners to be on the board or have none of the partners be on the board. I prefer the option of “no commercial partners” on the Sakai Foundation Board.
This is not about particular individuals or even particular companies – individuals can try to (and claim to) think independently from the context of their needs to monetize Sakai – but in the final analysis – it is not possible to expect any person who is a principal in a commercial partner to completely ignore the needs and priorities of their company when participating on a board.

What worries me is if we get to the point where a significant fraction of the board (or even 100% of the board) seats are held by companies. The Sakai Foundation will naturally be encouraged to move from its care-taking and community building role into becoming a “vendor” for software. And while this might seem “comforting” in the short term to schools which wish there were paid Sakai Foundation developers to fix bugs – if we evolve Sakai into a commercial vendor (albeit nonprofit) – we will have (by our own hands) once again lost control of our own destiny.
These culture changes are slow and barely noticeable over time – we only notice that things have changed after it is too late to undo the cultural change. We must keep the Sakai Foundation higher-education centered and non-commercial in its focus. We do this by electing Foundation board members from higher education.

I am sure these comments will be taken the wrong way – I do not mean to under-value the contributions we have received from the Sakai Commercial Partners. Our commercial partners are all pretty wonderful folks and are great promoters of Sakai around the world – many of the folks from the commercial companies are my personal friends – I want them all to succeed. Many of them are making some decent money on Sakai – that is great – it is part of the rich, diverse, and healthy commercial ecosystem around Sakai!

I further think that the Foundation and Community very much *need input* from the commercial partners. However we need to get input from *all* the partners and take that input in a forum where (a) all commercial partners have an equal opportunity to influence direction and (b) where the commercial partners are simply giving advice to the Foundation. I suggest that we need a Commercial Partner Advisory board which includes all commercial partners and meets 1-2 times per year. I would further suggest that the Foundation Board and Commercial Partners meet together with Michael as part of a regular strategic planning effort.

This allows the strategic planning for the Sakai Foundation and Community to be done in a broader and more open manner – and in particular – it allows the Sakai Foundation Board to focus on the very important but narrow responsibility to properly operate a non-profit corporation.
So my suggestion to all of the voting members of the Sakai Foundation is to “Vote Higher Education” – to reaffirm the fact that we are a community of higher education institutions who have banded together to share the load of innovating in teaching and learning and collaboration. While we are committed to being extremely commercial friendly in our processes, licensing, and governance – the Sakai Foundation must not play favorite to any of our commercial partners – they must all compete on an equal footing – without the benefit of a board seat given to one or two particular commercial organizations.

Thank you for listening to my personal opinions and as always your comments are welcome.


On Nov 6, 2008, at 4:29 PM, Carl Jacobson: University of Delaware wrote:
>Our current charter allows for the nomination and election of commercial
> partners. The current election has received nominations for commercial
> partners. If they accept their respective nominations, they will be on the slate.

Of course. I was not suggesting that people not be allowed to run. My post was simply a campaign speech to try to raise awareness on an issue that I think is important.

On Nov 6, 2008, at 5:55 PM, Sean Keesler wrote:
> Would you object to these schools voting for a representative from
> their chosen vendor to represent their interests? Wouldn’t their
> interests be interests of a larger cross section of higher ed than
> someone from a single institution?

Actually this is an excellent point. If a paying voting member of the Sakai Foundation feels that one of the commercial nominees truly is the best person to represent the values and priorities of that voter’s organization – then by all means they should cast their vote for the that person.
We *do* need to think of the votes in this manner. Vote for the candidates that you feel best *represents* your organization’s values and priorities.