Fewer than 12 percent of Yale undergraduates consider themselves politically conservative, according to a 2016 survey conducted by the News. Still, since its founding in 2010, the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program — which emerged to promote intellectual diversity amid concerns that politically conservative perspectives were insufficiently represented on Yale’s campus — has achieved broad name recognition and financial success.
In 2016, six years after its establishment, the Buckley Program received $800,000 in contributions and grants and boasted half a million dollars in net assets, according to the program’s 2016 tax filing. The program has brought a number of well-known conservative speakers and intellectuals to campus over the years, including J.D. Vance LAW ’13, Ben Carson ’73 — and, just last week, Jeb Bush.
“The development of the Buckley Program is extremely encouraging,” said Lauren Noble ’11, the program’s founder and executive director. “It’s in excellent financial shape.”
Noble said alumni support for the program has grown in recent years, with many former Yalies citing concerns over the state of free speech on Yale’s campus, particularly following the events of fall 2015. Around two years ago, Nicholas and Erika Christakis stepped down from their respective positions as head and associate head of Silliman College after an email sent by Erika Christakis, decrying the censure of costumes deemed culturally appropriating, sparked outrage on campus over Halloween weekend 2015. The email helped spur sustained student protests that fall, culminating with the resignation of the Christakis couple. Many students and alumni celebrated this outcome, while others deemed it a serious blow to free speech on college campuses.
President of the Buckley Program Maddie Fortier ’19 said that, despite the program’s successful record hosting well-known conservative intellectuals, the University’s failure to stand by the Christakises after Halloween 2015 handicapped outreach efforts.
“Multiple potential guests have declined the Buckley Program’s invitation to speak on Yale’s campus in light of how the Yale administration handled the free speech crisis of 2015,” Fortier said.
According to its annual reports, some of the Buckley Program’s biggest donors in 2016 were the Noble Family Foundation, Thomas Smith and Richard West ’60, who each donated over $25,000. In 2008, the New York Times reported that the Thomas W. Smith Foundation is “dedicated to supporting free markets” and has started paying for scholarly centers on college campuses. West is dean emeritus of New York University’s Stern School of Business and serves on the Buckley Program’s board of directors.
Among the donors who gave more than $10,000 to the Buckley Program in 2016 were Charles Johnson ’54, whose $250 million donation to Yale in 2013 facilitated the construction of the new residential colleges, and Lee Bass ’79, who made national headlines when he requested that Yale give back his $20 million donation in 1995 because he claimed that the University failed to devise a western canon–focused curriculum that lived up to his wishes.
The Buckley Program currently boasts 300 student fellows — the highest number in the program’s history — most of whom are undergraduates. Jeffrey Fu ’20, a student fellow, said dining with Buckley speakers has given him an opportunity to relearn the language of constructive discourse and emphasized that engaging with the speakers’ viewpoints does not necessarily constitute endorsement.
The Buckley Program’s flourishing coincides with the increased representation of Yale alumni in the Republican White House. Four members of President Donald Trump’s 16-person cabinet attended Yale, as did Trump’s third and newest national security advisor, John Bolton ’70 LAW ’74.
In his 2008 memoir “Surrender is Not an Option,” Bolton complained about Yale’s “relentless, smug, self-satisfied liberalism” and called the debates by conservative leaders at the Yale Political Union “a welcome relief.” He said his all-time favorite debate featured William F. Buckley Jr. ’50, who argued against a government obligation to promote equality and preserve liberty.
The Buckley Program hosts an annual “disinvitation dinner” in New York City to provide a platform for a speaker “whose voice has been silenced on a college campus.” The dinner last year featured entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel.
James Freeman ’91, an assistant editor with the Wall Street Journal who sits on the Buckley Program’s board of directors, said he wished that the program had existed when he was a student at Yale. He added that he hopes that in the future Yale will be more welcoming of “the timeless ideas about liberty that Buckley championed.”
As an undergraduate, Buckley was a member of the Yale Political Union’s Independent Party.
Jingyi Cui | firstname.lastname@example.org