Update: Illinois Tech has taken action in response to this editorial. TechNews has been provided with the following statement:
"The university is aware of the concerns that have been raised. Adjunct Professor Slater currently has a contract to teach one class, which expires at the end of this semester. The university will not be offering him a contract for future semesters.”
William Slater, III is a polarizing figure in the School of Applied Technology, where for most of the last decade he has taught courses on topics ranging from cybersecurity to data center management. With a background in the latter discipline, Slater’s qualifications make him a somewhat natural fit to mentor future generations of Information Technology and Management (ITM) professionals. The opinions of his students, though, are decidedly mixed. Especially when he attempts to tackle emerging topics like quantum computing or blockchain, Slater can come across as either a surface-level generalist lacking deep expertise, or as a rabid enthusiast who doesn’t understand the inherent limitations of the tools he discusses.
This article, though, has little to do with academics.
Slater often gives interviews with local news media as an expert on the topics he teaches, identified for the cameras as an Illinois Tech professor. He occasionally conducts workshops and talks for external organizations on the same premise, representing the university beyond its own doors. This is fairly common practice on either side: universities often put their faculty in the public light to draw attention to the institution, and adjunct faculty like Slater are often eager to take such opportunities in order to associate themselves strongly with a university.
If somebody takes a brief glance at Slater’s Twitter account, where he has amassed more than 4,000 followers, they’ll find that the man is not shy about self-promotion. His self-authored tweets often make use of more than half a dozen hashtags, extending the reach of each message as far as possible. About half of his tweets have to do with professional topics, but the other half are often revolting: Slater has shared or created messages in support of the QAnon conspiracy theory, whose adherents believe that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and George Soros will soon attempt a coup d'état in order to ensure power and safety for high-ranking pedophiles in government and civil society. He has also claimed outright that “big pharma” is holding a cure for cancer in secret, that George H.W. Bush helped orchestrate the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and that Barack Obama attended Columbia University as a foreign student by the name of Barry Sotero. And that’s just in a single week before this article was written.
Going back further through Slater’s history, a reader will find that in October he attacked Christine Blasey Ford (who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh) on aesthetic grounds, saying she had a “disgusting baby voice” and a “turkey neck.” In March, he tweeted a photo of Barack Obama claiming that the former president had a drug-fueled gay relationship with a Chicago man during the late 1990's. In April of 2017, he shared a photo that depicted a man feeling the breasts of a department store mannequin, captioned “Macys protect mannequins from horny muslims!” To that photo, he added three more depicting mannequin heads wearing hijabs and other obscuring clothing.
Slater has a particularly discriminatory stance toward Indian tech recruiters. On the basis of dissatisfying cold calls and LinkedIn spam messages over the course of his career, he has cast all tech recruiters of Indian background as unworthy of their jobs or of his attention. In 2014, he publicly declared that he “will not ever work with ANY Indian recruiters again.” This discriminatory joke has extended to Slater’s posts on LinkedIn, where he has come under fire in the past for his comments. The racist stance continues to his professional website, as well, where he set up an entire page (billslater.com/indianrecruiters) that uses the respectful Hindu greeting “Namaste” as a punchline.
The horrors of Slater’s website do not stop there. On a page called “My Chiraq”, the professor intersperses informational links about the city of Chicago with stock photos of intimidating black men, a guide to gang signs whose captions include “vote 4 times for Obama” and “Vote for Obama or I shoot!” and other outrageous items. He has a history of using Twitter in similar fashion, using the hashtags #Thugs and #ThugLife paired with photos of black men holding weapons to make charged commentary about Black Lives Matter activists and about crime in his home neighborhood of Wicker Park.
Following a link on the website titled “Chiraq’s Favorite President” lands visitors on a page that summarizes Obama’s presidency in a way that you might expect at this point: a banner at the top reads “Who is Barack Obama?” with images of a Hawaiian and Kenyan birth certificate displayed below it. Despite being an Obama supporter in 2008 (having even gotten a custom license plate with the president-elect’s name on it), Slater has since fallen down a rabbit hole of anger and conspiracy theories, and his webpage about Obama subscribes to the racist conversations that surround Obama’s country of birth.
And it gets worse. A folder linked on the Obama page of Slater’s website contains images and documents all about his presidency. This includes materials implying that Michelle Obama is transgender, that discuss tactics of “The Gay Crusade” to indoctrinate Americans, and which (again) imply that Barack Obama himself is gay. Many other images bring back the rumor that Obama is a practicing Muslim, often portrayed in the context of terrorism. All of these potential identities are portrayed as negative or evil.
At their most innocent, the things that Bill Slater chooses to share with the world are in incredibly poor taste, and are incredibly misinformed. They have no place in a professional context, and yet are published on platforms that are inherently professional. At their worst, his chosen content is explicitly racist, sexist, homophobic, and more. Slater pays occasional lip service to women’s equality, racial justice, and other noble topics, and he has an entire section of his website devoted to anti-bullying resources, but the bulk of his actions show either a complete lack of understanding of the harm caused by his rhetoric or a complete lack of concern over that harm. In the past (as in the case of his Indian recruiter campaign), he has been unrepentant when approached about the inappropriate nature of his posts.
Slater is a public figure, put forth as a voice of the university in a variety of contexts. The platform given to him by Illinois Tech allows him to spread filth with an air of authority. He should not continue to be enabled by this university in any way. On its own, the content he has posted online appears to break the university’s social media policy for faculty and the general harassment policy for all community members, which would be a great starting point for suspension or termination proceedings.
It is not worth keeping somebody so unhinged on faculty just because their specific technical interests are not covered by other current faculty members. There are hundreds of blockchain professionals chomping at the bit for academic roles, and there are plenty more folks with datacenter experience in Chicago who wouldn’t otherwise be a liability to this university. As it stands, Bill Slater makes Illinois Tech a less welcoming place, and we continue to lend legitimacy to his abhorrent views. It’s time to change that.