One of John Brooks Slaughter’s life mottos was that “opportunity is everywhere and talent is everywhere,” according to University of Maryland President Darryll Pines. Slaughter believed everyone has the potential to achieve excellence regardless of their background, Pines said.
Slaughter, this university’s first Black chancellor and a lifelong champion for institutional diversity, died in California on Dec. 6 from cancer, according to the University of Southern California’s engineering school, where Slaughter was a professor emeritus. He was 89 years old.
“We wouldn’t be the diversity, equity and inclusion campus that we are today if it wasn’t for Dr. Slaughter,” Pines told The Diamondback. “He’s one of our trailblazers that I think a lot of people have forgotten about.”
As this university’s president from 1982 to 1988, Slaughter is most recognized for his dedication to diversifying the campus by recruiting more Black students and faculty. At a time when expanding diversity was regarded as unessential, Slaughter allocated funds to the cause and worked to wipe away the stain left by campus segregation.
Slaughter also played a critical role in leading this university after Maryland basketball player Len Bias died from a drug overdose in 1986. The former chancellor made academic requirements for athletes more rigid in response.
Known for his leadership in higher education, Slaughter also served as president of Occidental College in Los Angeles after his resignation from this university in 1988, and was the first Black person to do so.
Before coming to this university, he was the first Black director of the U.S. National Science Foundation, where he also pushed for greater inclusion for underrepresented groups in science.
“He had the strength, the belief, the resilience to face the challenge of being the first and being the Black first,” Jerry Lewis, the executive director of this university’s Academic Achievement Programs, said.
When they worked at this university at the same time, Lewis said, he often visited Slaughter’s office because he shared the priority of hiring more Black professionals.
Slaughter was born and raised in Topeka, Kansas, where his passion for electrical engineering developed during his childhood. He received his bachelor’s degree from Kansas State University in electrical engineering in 1956, his master’s degree in engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1961 and his doctorate in engineering science from the University of California, San Diego in 1971.
In the early years of his career, Slaughter worked as the information systems technology head at the U.S. Navy Electronics Laboratory. He then became director of the University of Washington’s applied physics laboratory in 1975. He subsequently took on the role of academic vice president and provost at Washington State University.
“Every place he went, he was the only Black engineering person,” Pines said. “He wanted that to change.”
Ronald Zeigler, the director of this university’s Nyumburu Cultural Center, described Slaughter’s leadership on campus as “commendable” and hopes his legacy remains celebrated in diversity and general education courses at this university.
“He made a great contribution as an administrator for people like President Pines and other deans of color,” Zeigler said. “He helped to blaze a trail on this campus for many administrators and faculty members.”