As an MIT alum, I always like reading through the campus updates they send out and, given my interests, I often find the ones that involve Makers and campus Makerspaces interesting. However, after reading a I realized that something has been bothering me about how my alma mater is approaching this work. My point of concern at first seemed, even to me, like a small thing- the university title given to the head of these efforts. For the makerspace efforts on campus, MIT named a "Maker Czar." Their choice of person makes sense- Dr. Culpepper has long been passionate about making and encouraging students to create things. What strikes me as odd though is the title. It's used prominently (such as here, on the MIT Project Manus website.)
Oddly, this term is being used at other places as well, including Intel: "Intel has had a problem in the past communicating with makers, and appointed a "Maker Czar" to tackle that issue." (from this article by Agam Shaw.) Like MIT, Intel picked an amazing, well-qualified, person for the role. That said... when asked who would make a good communicator to individuals in a grass roots movement, I generally don't think of a czar.
The maker movement is something I care a lot about. I even wrote a book on it as I truly believe making, and the current use of it as a way of gathering people together, is important and has the potential to do a lot of good. I have spoken, more times than I can remember, about the powerful trends such as generosity and collaboration within the movement. Helping each other... leveling playing fields... and so on. Thus, I am truly confused as to how a number of leading organizations see "Czar" as the appropriate title for someone nurturing this mindset in their organization.
How did a word associated with Russian monarchs (and other Slavic Empire leaders) seem like a good choice? I never thought that my research on makers would have me digging into Russian history, but this might be a good point to mention that Tsar/Czar was the title given to Ivan the Great of Moscow who gained the Tsar title (technically "Tsar of All Russias") in 1547. You may remember Ivan from your history classes as "Ivan the Terrible." Monarchies and the Maker Movement seem, to me, as things that should have very little to do with each other. Interestingly,I have yet to find an organization with a "Maker Czarina." Not only is Czar a word that is typically associated with dictatorships, it is also a gendered word. And yes, I do know that the US Government has a history of appoint Czars for various topics- again, makers using government naming conventions seems equally odd.
As leaders in many maker circles, MIT and Intel are organizations that are often emulated by others. I sincerely hope that this is one action that is not copied. The appointing of "czars" is something best left to history books, rather than in our spaces encouraging learning and collaboration.
The Maker Movement needs collaborators, mentors, and enthusiasm. The Maker Movement does not need Czars.
PS: (9/26/16) While researching for this blog post, I came across the following quote, from MIT's Maker Czar. “Making is no longer just an MIT thing." (Making it Real, 6/12/16 ) My reply? Making was never just an "MIT thing."