Where Information Would Have Been: Using the Internet Archive in Research

by Cole Richard

Cole Richard is a junior from Orlando, Florida double majoring in English and Italian Studies and minoring in Linguistics. This is his first summer working on the Race & Racism project. He is also a resident assistant, DJ at the campus radio station, and student worker at the music library.

Accounting faculty with Professor Slaughter, third from the left, 1980.

When I was assigned my interview subject, Professor Raymond Slaughter, I began my research through the two avenues I thought would be most fruitful: The Race & Racism Project website and the Collegian archives. Unfortunately, relevant search results were rather paltry: One photograph from the project website and a handful of mentions in the Collegian. Although I was thankful to find anything at all, it seemed I had little to write interview questions from. Most of all, I was missing biographical information similar to what Team Oral History had been provided in preparation for our mock interview; I had no idea where Professor Slaughter had grown up or gone to school before coming to work at UR in 1977. Simply searching on Google (using terms such as “Raymond Slaughter,” “Ray Slaughter,” “Professor Slaughter,” “Dr. Slaughter,” and “Richmond,” or “University of Richmond,” etc.) was not especially helpful either. Although my searches yielded over two million results, only a few pertained to the Raymond Slaughter I would be interviewing, and these consisted mostly of outdated UR course catalogs or Whitepages search results that contained nothing more than a matching name. Lacking a profile of biographical information, I decided to put a pin in this and instead focus on considering the ways a faculty experience differs from that of a student, and how the interview and questions asked must differ to accommodate this.

After thinking about the unique insights faculty members can offer through interviews, I decided to develop my questions around two in particular: the ability to compare the university to other higher education institutions, and the greater length of time spent at the university compared to alumni. Compared to interviewing alumni who typically attend the university for four years and then move on, faculty spend a greater amount of time here. Additionally, faculty have their own undergraduate and graduate experiences at other institutions to reflect on when speaking about this university in particular. In order to prepare questions concerning these, however, I needed to know more about Professor Slaughter’s academic background. My first instinct was to check for a faculty bio on the university website. Although I was able to locate the page that hosted his bio, the content itself had been removed sometime after Professor Slaughter retired. Although the University had removed the information I was looking for from its website, I figured there had to be some way to access an older version of the webpage. Then I remembered archive.org’s Wayback Machine, a tool that caches webpages for this exact reason: the disappearance of information. Using this, I was able to access an older version of the page that listed Professor Slaughter’s educational background.

Finding this information was exciting, not just because I felt like I was recovering something that had been removed, but also because I gathered information that shaped my thinking in writing my interview questions. From the archived webpage I learned that Professor Slaughter had received both his B.A. and J.D. from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Kentucky State University and Howard University, respectively. After receiving his J.D., Professor Slaughter obtained an M.B.A. from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the nation’s top business school. A few years into his teaching career at Richmond, Professor Slaughter obtained an L.L.M. from William & Mary in tax law. Although this may appear to be rather basic information, it has been vital to my preparation for the interview, especially because I was not able to conduct a pre-interview (in which biographical information is gathered so the interviewer can better form questions) beforehand. After learning all of this, I had a sense of the unique perspectives Professor Slaughter could offer in the interview, and wrote a number of questions regarding his time spent at HBCUs compared to predominantly white institutions (PWIs), such as:

  • Why did you decide to attend HBCUs for your undergraduate and law degrees?
  • What was the campus environment like at an HBCU in the late ‘60s?
  • How politically involved was the campus compared to other colleges?
  • Was the transition from attending HBCUs to teaching at a PWI difficult?

With these questions I hope to incorporate Professor Slaughter’s experiences at other institutions to better contextualize his thoughts on his experience at UR. Specifically, I am interested in recording Professor’s Slaughter’s thoughts on having been the first black professor at the Robins School of Business after having completed his undergraduate and law programs at HBCUs.

One facet of faculty experience in particular that I am interested in questioning Professor Slaughter about is tenure. One of the few aforementioned Collegian mentions of Professor Slaughter was in an article titled “Board of Trustees grants 11 tenure.” It states that tenure was granted to 11 faculty members, including Professor Slaughter, at a March 8, 1986 meeting. Further, it states that faculty must teach at the university for six years to be eligible for tenure and that at most universities, professors must be reviewed for tenure after their sixth year, and if they do not receive it they are granted a one year period to find a new job and then must leave. This stuck out to me, as I knew that Professor Slaughter began teaching at UR in 1977, meaning he received tenure after nine, not six, years here. Although the article was unclear in whether or not UR specifically followed the guidelines of making professors be reviewed for tenure and forcing them to leave if it was not granted, its inclusion of that detail effectively highlighted Slaughter’s experience as atypical in my mind. Personally, my father has been either a professor or dean for my entire life  and has been open about his work experiences, so I am somewhat familiar with the office politics of faculty and tenure committees. I intend to ask Slaughter about his experience with the tenure application process and his thoughts on tenure being used as a tool for university trustees to directly shape the composition of the professoriate, one which, until his arrival at the business school, was composed entirely of white males.