John Brooks Slaughter (1934- )
John Brooks Slaughter
Credit: NSF Collection
The sixth National Science Foundation (NSF) director served from December 1980 to October 1982. Slaughter was the first African-American director and the first director identified professionally as an engineer. A late appointment of President Jimmy Carter, he was director less than two years, the shortest time in office for any director to date. During that period he faced major financial struggles as a result of the major cuts in the NSF budgets for education and the social and behavioral sciences made by incoming President Ronald Reagan. After he left the NSF, a science journalist characterized him as "a gentle man, efficient administrator, and an advocate powerfully devoted to minority causes."
Slaughter received his undergraduate degree from Kansas State University in 1956, his M.S. from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1961, and his Ph.D. in engineering science from the University of California at San Diego in 1971. He was an engineer for the General Dynamics Corporation (1956-1960), physical science administrator of information systems at the Naval Electronics Laboratory Center (1961-1975), and director of the Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington (1975-1977). He was Assistant Director for the NSF Astronomical, Atmospheric, Earth, and Ocean Sciences Directorate from 1977 to 1979. He then became provost of Washington State University.
Despite his relatively brief tenure, Slaughter had considerable impact on the NSF. He established an independent engineering directorate, giving engineering organizational equity. He also provided strong leadership in efforts to increase the number of minorities and women in the fields of science and engineering.