After more than 34 years of service, Robert (Bob) Slayton, Professor of History and Henry Salvatori Professorship in American Values and Traditions of Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at Chapman University, has announced his retirement at the end of this academic year.
When asked what Wilkinson College means to him, he replied, “Jennifer [Dean Jennifer Keene] said it best, that we are the heart and soul of the university. At times the school has strayed from that vision, but I’ve always believed it.”
What will he miss most about teaching?
“Easy. Interactions with students … [but] not the grading!”
“Dr. Slayton makes history real and powerful, in a way that makes you, as a student, put yourself in the shoes of those you’re studying. He has such a thorough command of history through empathy, and that’s something that’s so incredibly rare and special for a historian,” – Nicole Saito ‘22 (History, Economics, and Political Science Major)
Dr. Slayton joined the History Department in the fall of 1988 as an Assistant History Professor. Throughout the years he has been honored with several awards, such as Wang-Fradkin Professorship in 2002 (University’s highest award for scholarly or creative activity), Jerrel T. Richards Professorship in 2001, and the Valerie E. Scudder Award for Outstanding Teaching in 1995 and 1990 (first professor in the history of the university to receive the award twice), just to name a few. He was the first Chapman professor (and still one of the very few) to have an op-ed published in the Sunday New York Times.
“Dr. Slayton is a nationally recognized scholar, and his scholarship has brought great acclaim to the History Department, Wilkinson College, and Chapman University,” – Dean Jennifer D. Keene, Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.
Slayton is the author of eight books, including Empire Statesman: The Rise and Redemption of Al Smith (The Free Press), Back of the Yards (University of Chicago Press), New Homeless and Old (Temple University Press), and Master of the Air (University of Alabama Press). Back of the Yards was chosen by Choice, the library journal, as one of its “Outstanding Books” of that year, while New Homeless was awarded Honorable Mention for the Paul Davidoff Award by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning. He shows no sign of slowing down. Slayton is almost done with his ninth book (on the history of movies and New York City) and has two more in mind to write during his retirement.
“I really, really love to research and write; this is not a chore to get tenure or promotion,” said Dr. Slayton.
He has posted over one-hundred-twenty articles on the Huffington Post, but is very proud of an article he wrote in 2015 for an Italian paper, L’Italo Americano, about Joe DiMaggio, Joe DiMaggio and America for its unique perspective on baseball.
Dr. Slayton calls himself a “nostalgia baseball fan” growing up in the Bronx watching Mickey Mantle play for the New York Yankees and has been married to Rita Slayton for 40 years. “I’m still madly in love with her.”
“Teaching is a constant phenomenon, with its highs and lows. It’s more like a flowing river, than tidal waves. Some teachers remember their excellent students. I do too, but the ones that I’m proudest of are simply those that made the most progress; that’s where I felt the best about my teaching. I had one student who started as a C- and worked up to a B+,” he said.
Not only does he want his students to progress, but he genuinely cares about their wellbeing. During the pandemic, when anti-Asian hate crimes were on the rise, a student of his was writing her thesis on the struggles Japanese Americans faced in advocating for Hawaiian statehood, a symbol of acknowledgment of the community’s belonging in the US.
“As an Asian American, seeing the historic discrimination AJA soldiers faced, and then seeing the same awful rhetoric circulating around the country, was painful beyond words. When the Atlanta shooting happened in March , I was extremely distraught. Within just a few hours of the tragedy, Dr. Slayton reached out, offering to listen, checking on me. He is so incredibly caring and supportive of his students, and during the pandemic, when we all felt so isolated, he really stepped up to help us. I think this small story characterizes Dr. Slayton as a person, and as a professor, best. I’m so thankful he was my thesis advisor, and so honored I got to be his student,” said Saito.
In addition to being an amazing teacher and prolific author, he’s described as a pillar and an elder statesman of the History Department.
“He goes out of his way to befriend and mentor the junior faculty in the Department. He always makes time for us. He loves history and telling stories,” said Dr. Alex Bay, Chair of the History Department.
Faculty, staff, students and alumni will gather to celebrate Dr. Slayton and his 34 years of service and contributions to Chapman University and Wilkinson College on Thursday, April 21, 2022 at 1:30 p.m. in Wallace All Faiths Chapel.