A Toxic Leadership

Remove Ryan Merkley from Creative Commons

Posted by Billy Meinke on September 24, 2018   •   5 min read

Late last year, I shared my account of sexual harassment and bullying while an intern at Creative Commons in 2013-2014. My direct supervisor made sexual references and comments towards me, other staff, and members of the CC community beyond the walls of our headquarters. This is a follow up post not to bring up wounds from the past – which I of all people am not in favor of – but to call for the removal of Ryan Merkley as CEO of Creative Commons based on information I have that implicates him as having directly attempted to suppress my story.

If you wish, you can read my account in this blog post. Within a week of my post, Ryan published a response on Medium.com (which cannot be found through a search of the website – PDF mirrored here) not directly replying to me, but rather as a statement correcting slight errors of my timeline of events and suggesting that Creative Commons dealt with the issue in an appropriate manner. Take his response for what you will. I saw it as a thin attempt to clear his name and make his leadership appear to be actively dealing with a confirmed sexual harasser. What his response did was confirm several things:

  • The harasser did not contest any of my account of personal harassment nor my shared account of the harassment of CC community members that I reported in August of 2014
  • Ryan allowed the harasser to continue to work under the CC flag until April of 2015, interacting with other staff and community members during this period and beyond
  • Ryan did not alert other staff or community members of the uncontested harassment; they learned of this only after I published my #metoo story in November of 2017

In his letter Ryan said that, “the claim was resolved within two weeks”. If you follow the above timeline, you will see that the nothing beyond confirming my allegations of harassment was done within two weeks. Under his watch, the harasser remained an employee and for all intents and purposes had his disgusting actions affirmed. I find it impossible to believe that I was the last person my harasser treated this way.

But those details are not what this post is about. You see, it is one thing to respond to a #metoo story that questions the leadership of an organization, and it is something completely different to actively attempt to suppress my story. Earlier this year I learned from former leadership within the organization that Ryan had reached out to them directly and requested that 1) they not respond to or amplify my tweet of the story and 2) to amplify his own response.

After my post, I felt a bittersweet sense of validation during the outpouring of replies I received. At the same time, my story was called to question by others in the open community, and others I had expected to hear from did not respond at all. But what is a flavor of toxicity I can barely fathom is what Ryan then did: He tried to muzzle me. He attempted to bring others onto his side to maintain the appearance of a healthy, functioning leadership when in fact this was far from the case.

Back channels exist at the leadership levels of nearly any organization or government you might be involved with. But the revelation that a suppression campaign was made against my story goes against everything I understand to be values within the “open” community.

Who else did Ryan reach out to and request they not amplify or respond to my story?

Who complied?

What implications are there because of this?

These questions may never be answered, because those answers have the potential to seriously weaken long-standing leadership that has brought us so far in making open education, open science, and free culture ubiquitous in our world.

But at this time I am making a direct appeal to the Board of Directors of Creative Commons to investigate the circumstances of Ryan’s attempted suppression of my story, and calling for his removal as CEO of the organization.

We need leadership that takes seriously all reports of sexual harassment, and takes swift action not to just listen to those like me who find the courage to report such incidents, but also to immediately remove bad actors once an incident is confirmed. Ryan made an attempt at the first, failed completely at the second, and then tried to save face by calling on other leaders in the open community to turn a blind eye to my story.

Ryan needs to leave. Now.

Edit: If you wish to sign an open letter to the Board of Creative Commons requesting a transparent investigation into Ryan’s actions as CEO, please use this form.