Buckley course pends approval

The student-run William F. Buckley, Jr. Program’s efforts to attract funding for a course on the conservative alumnus’ legacy has earned mention in national media outlets, but Yale administrators said outside donors have supported academic courses in the past.

Nathaniel Zelinsky ’13, president of the program, said the organization “linked” an anonymous donor with the University to fund a course in the Political Science Department based on a fall 2010 Davenport residential college seminar. Harry Blair, associate chair of the Political Science Department, said donors are “frequently volunteering and suggesting all sorts of things” that he is sometimes “dubious” about, but he said he thinks the proposed Buckley course, which has not yet been approved by the Yale College faculty, would meet Yale’s academic standards.

Donors wishing to fund a new course must first approach the Office of Development, Blair said, which then contacts the appropriate academic department. A donor’s funding is used primarily to pay a lecturer’s salary, he said, adding that the Buckley course would not likely have been supported by regular departmental funding.

Danilo Petranovich, a lecturer who worked with Buckley on his 2008 book “The Reagan I Knew,” was chosen by the Political Science Department to teach the course. Petranovich declined to comment Tuesday about the potential seminar.

Frances Rosenbluth, deputy provost for the social sciences and faculty development, said in an email that outside donors may not choose a particular lecturer or course to support, but they can fund a specific “type of course” through the Provost Office’s non-ladder teaching budget. She added that she “does not know of many” courses that are currently funded by outside donors.

Though their funding may come from different sources, courses taught by non-ladder faculty, including residential college seminars, must receive approval from the Course of Study Committee and the Yale College faculty the same way all other classes do before becoming part of the Yale College curriculum, Rosenbluth said.

Course proposals do not come from outside organization but from faculty members, Yale College Dean Mary Miller said in an email.

Political science Professor Steven Smith said in an email that the Course of Study Committee would take special care when evaluating courses that are supported by outside sources.

“No course can just be a kind of advocacy class, no matter what its political affiliation,” he said. “It would need to be closely vetted especially if it is being funded by some donor.”

Zelinsky said that he believes the Buckley class will be a “legitimate part of academic discourse.” Since the class has already been approved once as a college seminar, he added, he saw no reason why it would not be offered again. David Mayhew, a Sterling Professor of Political Science who has served on the Course of Study Committee in the past, said he would not have a problem with the Buckley course being taught, regardless of its connection with the Buckley program.

Blair added that he hopes the Buckley course would take advantage of Buckley’s archives, which are held in Yale’s Manuscripts and Archives Library, and that the course could become a “precedent” for other classes taking advantage of Yale’s archives. He suggested the coming arrival of the Kissinger papers, the documents of Cold War diplomat Henry Kissinger, as a similar potential example.

The Buckley Program, which was founded in fall 2010, held a gala on Friday in honor of the 60th anniversary of Buckley’s publication of his famous book,“God and Man at Yale.”


  • ldffly

    Let me say that I was an admirer of Mr. Buckley going back to the very late 60s. I watched Firing Line habitually and read many of his books. However, it pains me to see the Yale College curriculum headed in this direction. I suppose what one might say is that in comparison to the 1970s, a period I know directly, the curriculum and course content are far more ideologically driven. Thus, with a course on Buckley’s influence on modern American conservatism, a modicum of alternatives would hit the curriculum. Frankly, a better change for my money, would be to wipe out a good deal of the curriculum and move back to something closer to objectivity in the classroom. Ah but that would be too phallic for the home of deconstruction, Derrida, Foucault, and the renowned Judy Butler, now wouldn’t it?

  • RexMottram08


    WFB Jr. would support your proposal wholeheartedly.

  • godard17

    this is absolutely disgraceful. why not invite berlusconi to teach the course, considering that he will soon be unemployed? what happened to the yale i cherish?

  • yayasisterhood

    @Godard17: Sorry that Yale doesn’t teach your own narrow political ideology as the entirety of political and intellectual history.

  • River_Tam

    Conservative thought has no place in academia.

  • ldffly

    A course on modern American conservative thought, focusing on Buckley’s influence, in and of itself wouldn’t be a bad thing. Yet, this whole thing seems to be part of a competition for a place at the ideological table. That’s what I dislike wholeheartedly!

  • yalie13

    Normally, I don’t think this is a big deal. Yale can have classes celebrating communism if it wants to (as long as it’s not propaganda or silences free thought and disagreement of course). But I don’t think the funding should come from a donor. That would imply that anyone with wealth can buy the university into teaching what he/she wants to teach, which is rather unethical. What gives a person of monetary means any more right to influence academia than anyone else. Perhaps a solution might be to have students and/or faculty petition for the course, “fund raise”, and expose all donors. That may have its consequences too, but it seems more appropriate.

  • kdaysandtou

    Buckley is an intellectual lightweight, famous for being an American conservative who could use big words and read a book or two occasionally. His TV show was a sham, and he was embarrassed by anybody he couldn’t bully and intimidate through his erudition (see Noam Chomsky interview, among others). The idea that he is some kind of important philosophical figure and should be studied accordingly is ridiculous. It’s heartbreaking to think that Yale students might be reading Buckley instead of Plato or Kant. Students should be using their time at Yale to challenge their understanding of society, rather than becoming well-versed in the inane, unproductive liberal-conservative dichotomy that grips this country.