Stallman’s foibles are legend in the computer science world. People who never met him know about his quirks. There are many. When he travels to give speeches, he likes to stay with hosts rather than at hotels. A few years ago, a list of instructions emerged for those lucky hosts. It made the Rolling Stones look easy to please. He specifies, for example, that he likes parrots and would love to interact with a friendly parrot, but he hoped his hosts would not feel obliged to therefore buy a parrot just for his visit.
Generally, the word inappropriate doesn’t seem to be in his vocabulary. He once invited a friend of mine to lunch at a fancy restaurant, and she accepted, on the condition that he comb his hair and wear suitable attire. After a pleasant meal, he asked her if she minded if he danced. (Stallman is famously a lover of folk dancing.) “Go ahead,” she said, and he pranced around the tables, solo, in high-stepping glee, oblivious to the discomfort of diners.
That same obliviousness probably led to jokes in bad taste on email lists, and the scrawled name card on this door at MIT, where he was until yesterday a Visiting Scientist. “Richard Stallman,” it read, in black Sharpie, “Knight for Justice (Also: Hot Ladies).”
That name card is an image in the recent Medium post of MIT alumnus Selam Jie Gano, in which she demanded that he be tossed off the campus. Her essay is an example of the raised voices of women at MIT in the post-Epstein era, and maybe even in the tech world at large. “There is no single person that is so deserving of praise their comments deprecating others should be allowed to slide,” she wrote. “Particularly when those comments are excuses about rape, assault, and child sex trafficking.”