John B. Slaughter, who served as chancellor of the university from November 1982 to July 1988, was the first African American in that role. He received a B.S. in electrical engineering from Kansas State University in 1956, an M.S. in engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1961, and a Ph.D. in engineering science from the University of California, San Diego in 1971. Slaughter was director of the National Science Foundation prior to becoming chancellor.
During his tenure on campus, Slaughter made major advances in the recruitment and retention of African-American students and faculty. He also acted to stabilize the university during the upheaval surrounding the sudden death of Terrapin basketball star Len Bias in 1986.
Slaughter resigned in 1988 to become the president of Occidental College in Los Angeles. Upon the expansion of the University of Maryland that year, the chancellor’s office was renamed the Office of the President.
Slaughter later worked to increase the number of engineers of color as CEO of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering. In 2010, he returned to the University of Southern California as a professor of education and engineering.