The William H. Taft Mansion — a quiet, cream-colored three-story house that sits on Whitney Avenue in New Haven — has seen its fair share of history over the years. In January 2014, it will have a renewed political presence by serving as the permanent home of Yale’s conservative William F. Buckley Jr. Program.
Founded in 2010 by a group of undergraduates inspired by Buckley’s 1951 book “God and Man at Yale”, the Buckley Program aims to inject new opinions into campus dialogue by offering a conservative speaker series, funding summer internships for undergraduates and hosting debates and workshops.
After receiving $500,000 from a single unnamed donor, the program will move into the 27th U.S. President’s house next January with a two-year lease and an option to buy. According to board members of the program, the building will serve as a space for speakers and events and will potentially house conservative thinkers and writers as fellows in the future.
“This was our first choice, and our idea of having a permanent home for the program was pursued with this specific building in mind,” said Lauren Noble ’11, executive director of the program. “It’s a great building and a wonderful location — and the added Taft history is just a bonus.”
Although the eventual purchase of the building will cost an additional $2 million, Noble said she is not worried about raising the money because of the support from alumni and old friends of William F. Buckley Jr.
Donald Kagan, Sterling Professor of classics and history and one of the key figures in the Buckley Program’s founding, said the program’s mission is to broaden intellectual understanding at Yale by addressing the shortage of politically conservative thought on campus. Nathaniel Zelinsky ’13, a member of the Buckley Program’s board of directors, said Kagan urged the group to seek a physical space on campus to ensure the group’s staying power. By obtaining the building, Kagan said the group seeks to establish a stronger presence within Yale.
“Of course the people in the program are very interested in politics, but they’re interested in something bigger and broader than politics,” Kagan said. “The main activities have been — and I think will continue to be — along the lines of education in the broader sense of the word.”
Harry Graver ’14, president of the Buckley Program’s student program and a columnist for the News, said the mansion will enhance the program’s academic presence by providing a space for long-term residential scholars and fellows. Graver added that the venue will also provide a new social space for political discussion.
Though conservative groups on Yale’s campus are smaller in number than their liberal counterparts, they still maintain a presence. Despite the common perception that Yale leans toward the politically liberal, Nicole Hobbs, president of the Yale College Democrats, said she has definitely seen political diversity on campus.
“I think that the reality is, all of us — whether Dems or Buckley or YPU — we’re all out there, we’re all hosting different things and doing different things,” Hobbs said.
The Taft Mansion is located at 111 Whitney Ave. After moving into the space in January, the Buckley Program will decorate and furnish the building, although it does not expect to conduct any major renovations.