Last May, three administrators nominated me for adminship: TParis, Secret, and Dennis Brown. Perhaps I am a curse, but none of the three are still administrators, a testament to the problems Wikipedia faces in retaining volunteers willing and able to fill this post.
Now that we have that out of the way, let's pivot to the real problem: when respected administrators—and for that matter, experienced editors—resign or even decrease their activity due to burnout, abuse, under-appreciation, or disillusionment, the entire encyclopedia is hurt.
TParis, an administrator for several years who was particularly active in de-escalating drama at ANI and related pages, left in part because he had "lost interest" and stamina, as well as having received unwarranted abuse from various editors. TParis's reasons for leaving typify Wikipedia's problems with how it treats its administrators.
It is time that, as a community, we recognize that admin abuse—editors abusing admins, the reverse of the typical concern—is a problem. Yes, admin abuse is a major problem that is hindering the quality of the encyclopedia.
In his departure comments, TParis wrote:
The fact that editors can make intentional attacks and then play it off like they had no idea it would or could be offensive, even denying the history of the attack, is one of the major contributions to the failure of the civility policy. It has created an expressway out of the civility policy: say your attack, deny it's[sic] background, and good faith will protect you.
I read a lot more administrator talk pages and noticeboards than I comment on, and what I see there is frankly appalling, especially the level of bad faith of which administrators are regularly accused. And it is not just newbies angry that their first article was speedily deleted; editors who are generally respected take swipes at administrators that, if the roles were reversed, would prompt cries of personal attacks, admin abuse (the other kind), etc.
It would be disingenuous for me to say that admin abuse—in its general usage—does not occur, and that there are not administrators who are a net negative for the encyclopedia.
However, certainly most would agree that TParis did not fall into that category, and when he—a soldier with a thicker skin than most—gets tired of personal attacks, perhaps it is time for the rest of us to take notice and rectify the problem. "I don't feel I can turn in the admin hat without the issues I was involved in as an admin not haunting me and paying me special visits," TParis wrote. Surely for a project that purports the notion that "adminship is no big deal", a sentiment like that should be a wake up call.
On a partially related note, there is such a backlog of administrative work to be done and few administrators ready, willing, and able to do it. The administrative backlog continues to expand, as does the general Wikipedia backlog. The community, however, continues to promulgate the notion that content is king (a notion with which I agree), and nothing else is worth doing at all—in other words, if you are not a content contributor, you really have no place here. That is categorically untrue; backlog busters and behind-the-scenes workers pave the way for content contributors to contribute content. When that work is not done, the encyclopedia suffers.
When articles for creation submissions take months to be processed, it is incredibly disconcerting to new contributors, whom we try to recruit to replace our ever increasing population of retired contributors.
When new page patrol turns into a weeks or months long process, we become an incubator for potential BLP violations.
When requests for comment languish awaiting closure, it undermines the consensus building process—the fabric of Wikipedia.
And when administrators and other editors try to help in this area, they frequently subject themselves to undue grief, accusations of bad faith, etc. No wonder we see burnout, admin resignations, etc. at such high levels. Sure, the instance of TParis and my commentary thereof is anecdotal, but it is one that is repeated with disturbing frequency.
Recall the formerly active administrators Boing! said Zebedee, Toddst1, The Blade of the Northern Lights, even Writ Keeper and Dennis Brown. And now TParis. Although all left or significantly decreased their activity under different circumstances, their respective departures leave a void in all kinds of admin areas of the encyclopedia, some of which we probably have yet to fully discover. They did the work no one else would, and now that work is not getting done.
All of this is to say we, as a community, need to address some underlying problems and important questions if we want to be a functional encyclopedia:
Realize that we have a problem ... before we can do anything else, we have to recognize that the loss of active administrators poses a clear and present danger to the credibility of the encyclopedia and its future. This danger manifests itself in many ways, some of which I have outlined, others of which I have decided not to outline, and most of which, I probably would never have imagined.
Recognize administrators for doing unpleasant work ... a simple "thanks" or just hitting the thank button often will do the job. Elaborate barnstars, awards, etc. are not always necessary. Yes, administrators do sign up for a "thankless" job, but that does not mean community members cannot and should not thank them when they do it well.
Recruit new administrators with requisite experience ... this may also mean fixing a broken RfA process, a likely unpleasant and daunting task, but one that needs to be done.
Make adminship not suck. TParis wrote, "I'm sorry for what the hell I've encouraged them to volunteer for," in regards to his recruitment of new administrators. How do we make adminship at least a non-hellish experience?
Perhaps the answer is rethinking the entire process of adminship. Perhaps it is unbundling of some kind. Perhaps it is in recruiting more people to run—my RfA was not bad at all, although others obviously have different experiences. Perhaps it is in creating a de-adminship process that has the side effect of giving those who retain adminship increased credibility and respect within the community. Perhaps it is none of these things, or some combination thereof.
Regardless, the retirement of TParis underscores the problem of admin attrition, and as an encyclopedia, it is time we seek to find solutions.
Go Phightins! is a Wikipedia administrator and a co-editor-in-chief of the Signpost. He primarily focuses his editing on sports articles, and only occasionally dabbles in admin areas. This editorial is written in his capacity as a Wikipedia editor—not in his Signpost role or as an administrator, although an admittedly inactive one that rarely uses the tools.