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Tom Slayton Creates Endowed Professorship for East Asian Politics

When Tom Slayton attended the University of Idaho as an undergraduate more than 50 years ago, he intended to become a lawyer.

Instead, Slayton, of Alexandria, Virginia, became one of the world’s leading experts on the international rice market and a consultant to the World Bank and the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

The Blackfoot, Idaho native recently donated $1 million to the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) to create an endowed professorship for East Asian politics. The donation is part of an effort to support the university that opened vistas for him long ago, Slayton said.

“I feel a deep gratitude to the University of Idaho for the education I received both in and outside of the classrooms,” said Slayton, who earned a Bachelor of Arts cum laude in political science in 1972.

The college plans to interview candidates for the tenure-track assistant professorship to fill the post by the fall 2022.

“This is an amazing moment for the Department of Politics and Philosophy,” said Sean Quinlan, dean of the college. “Political science is an important and growing program in our college, and it has a long and venerable tradition, constituting a vital part in the university’s move to engage in the highest levels of research.”

Slayton’s generosity will help situate the college for the future and bring an important and much-needed emphasis on contemporary Asia, Quinlan said.

“The endowment will become a cornerstone in the new Asian Studies initiative and expand our outreach and position the university as a leader in this studies field in the Pacific Northwest, thereby better serving our students and citizens,” he said.

The endowed professorship will be held by a scholar with a specialization in Chinese politics and foreign policy. The professor will teach courses in Chinese and Asian politics, according to the agreement between Slayton and the U of I.

With China an aggressive, rising world power and an economy expected to surpass that of the U.S. within the decade, understanding the region is vital, Slayton said.

He said changes in courses of study at U of I departments over the past several decades, including in history and political science, and the loss of the Confucius Institute, prompted his decision to start the endowment.

“There was a hole there,” Slayton said. “China should be a primary focus.”

Tom Slayton
Tom Slayton

While at U of I, Slayton was on the student council and a student body vice president. He belonged to Phi Beta Kappa and was named Theophilus Outstanding Senior. He was also an organizer of the Blue Mountain Rock Festival, an annual Moscow music event that began in 1971, but was banned from campus in 1975. Slayton earned a masters at Columbia University and began his career as an economist before working as an agricultural attaché at U.S. embassies in Indonesia and Thailand.

Slayton has lived and traveled extensively in Asia. He is the former publisher of the Rice Trader and The Rice Report, and consultant to Louis Dreyfus, the world’s largest international rice trader.

Slayton said he hopes his endowment will prompt others to donate to the university.

“With state support having lagged over the past decade, I hope there are others who can be persuaded to open their pocketbooks — big and small,” he said.

Slayton and his wife, Cherie, who grew up in North Idaho and retired after working 30 years on Capitol Hill, have two grown children.

Article by Ralph Bartholdt
Published January 2021

Thomas Slayton and Mary Ruth Mann
University of Idaho students Thomas Slayton and Mary Ruth Mann, student body president, on the occasion of their election to ASUI in 1971.


Department of Politics and Philosophy

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Department of Politics and Philosophy
University of Idaho
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Phone: 208-885-6328