Ines Chomnalez, Contributing Photographer

The William F. Buckley Program Jr. at Yale hosted its 12th annual conference on Dec. 2, celebrating the 60th anniversary of Milton Friedman’s “Capitalism and Freedom.”

The Buckley Program’s mission is to “promote intellectual diversity on Yale’s campus,” primarily by hosting conservative thought leaders on Yale’s campus. This event featured a series of panels on different chapters of Friedman’s work, an award for essays written by high school and Yale students and a dinner with a keynote address from Republican Governor of New Hampshire Chris Sununu.

“Our annual survey shows that college campuses are more perilous for free speech than ever,” Lauren Noble ’11 – student founder of the Buckley Program – said during her speech at the dinner. “A record 63 percent of students report being intimidated from sharing their opinions in class because of their peers.”

The conference was hosted at the Omni Hotel, and ran from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., beginning with a series of panels and ending with a dinner featuring speeches from members of the Program’s Student and Faculty Boards. Attendees included the Buckley Program’s various student fellows, donors and alumni.

Sununu closed off the event by delivering a keynote address to a full room before taking questions from attendees. In his speech, he claimed that Yale’s campus culture did not encourage free speech or political tolerance — a talking point shared by many other speakers at the event. 

However, Sununu said that this intolerance was not necessarily the fault of liberal students, but rather, the fault of a “cowardly” administration.

“I don’t think a lack of free speech is because you have too many Democrats,” Sununu said. “I don’t, I think a lack of free speech is because you have leadership on a campus that doesn’t have the guts to stand up and drive the conversation where it needs to be in an open, honest and respectful manner.”

The conference ran for eight hours and kicked off with a panel on “Capitalism and Freedom,” where much of the discussion centered around applying the book’s economic principles to answer modern-day questions of fiscal policy. 

Diana Furchtgott-Roth, an economist and one of the three panelists, cited congress’s proposed legislation in relation to fighting climate change, such as carbon taxes and the Green New Deal, as examples of fiscal policy that Friedman would have found irresponsible. 

“Even if we had a carbon tax here in the United States, massive emissions coming from Russia, China, and developing countries would mean it made no difference,” she said. “It would be costing us trillions of dollars to no gain in reduced emissions, and possibly increased global emissions as manufacturing goes offshore.”

Also brought up during the discussion was the view that universities generally hold a negative perception of Milton Friedman and his works. 

“When I was at Swarthmore College majoring in economics, I found that my grades would go down when I cited Milton Friedman,” Roth said. “I got a C plus in the first quarter of macroeconomics. I got an A minus in the second quarter when inflation and Milton Friedman were not on the menu.”

Jose Joaquin Castellon, a Chilean international student and MBA candidate at the School of Management, said he enjoyed the discourse of the first discussion. 

“I was very interested to hear the point of view of the different panelists and their perspectives related to actual issues today such as climate change and social responsibility,” Castellon said. 

Other notable panelists featured throughout the day were Walter K.Olson, a senior fellow of the Cato Institute, Andrew Stuttaford of the “National Review” magazine and Amity Shlaes ’82, a conservative author. 

The dinner featuring Sununu closed off the event, and the governor’s keynote address was prefaced with remarks from Buckley student leadership board members Kevin Xiao ’23 and Rosie Braceras ’23, Buckley Program Founder Lauren Noble, and treasurer of Buckley’s Board of Directors John Spagnola ’79. Braceras is a staff reporter for the News. 

In her address to attendees, Noble said that the topic for the conference was selected not just because of Friedman’s groundbreaking economic theories, but also because of his confrontations with political intolerance as a public intellectual of his day.

She further remarked on the significance of highlighting capitalist theory in a period during which, according to Noble, “a plurality of today’s college students would rather live under a socialist system than under a capitalist one.”

According to Noble, there exists an ongoing need for improvements to the culture of free speech on campus. Noble specifically pointed out three events from the past year: an incident in which a Yale Law student was encouraged by administrators to apologize for a racially charged language in an email, a protest at a YLS Federalist Society event last March and disruptions at a Buckley Program event featuring Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The individuals who disrupted the Pompeo event were not affiliated with Yale. 

“Cancel culture seems stronger than ever,” Noble remarked. “But so too, is the Buckley Program.”

Mike Zhang ’26, a first year Buckley Fellow, told the News that he did not personally identify as a Republican or a Democrat, saying that he didn’t feel “informed enough on world events and politics” to make a decision. Zhang said that even though most speakers invited by Buckley were conservative, he found the events valuable because they presented him with ideas he had not heard elsewhere on campus. 

Zhang clarified that he himself had not felt the force of cancel culture that Noble described in her speech.

“I have not been canceled,” Zhang said. “I actually have not talked to anyone who has directly denied me the opportunity to speak because of my views.”

Noble ended her comments to attendees by thanking Buckley’s “many donors” for their generosity, which she said single handedly made possible the work Buckley is doing in training “future leaders.” In April of last year, the YDN reported that the Buckley Program boasted net assets around $2 million and a $700,000 annual budget thanks to support from donors.

Ari Schaffer, Buckley communications director, told the News that the Conference served many purposes, one of which was displaying the work of the Program to those who support it financially. Student President Xiao explained to the News that this Conference was also a way for students to meet donors and alumni informally, as Buckley does not have programming specifically targeted at connecting students to donors.

Sununu spoke at length about his work as Governor of New Hampshire, commented on key issues in national politics, and finally offered various opinions about the state of free speech at Yale University.

“I must admit, I was a bit nervous about coming to Yale,” Sununu began his speech by saying. “It’s not really known as the bastion of free speech.”

Sununu claimed that his work as governor stemmed from a principle that good economic policy was the best way to increase opportunities for his constituents.

Sununu closed off his prepared remarks — which were followed by questions from attendees — by discussing the importance of messaging and branding in politics, calling on Republicans to work on their messaging as a party.

“As Republicans across the country, we’re great at being the smartest people in the room,” Sununu said. “But we’re terrible at messaging.”

Sununu pointed out the example of climate change, saying that American Republicans had wrongly allowed themselves to be painted as climate change deniers. According to Sununu, “the next generation” of Republicans are not “climate change kooks,” but are rather hoping to find “economically viable” solutions in environmental policy.

The governor went on to deride pushes from within his own party to determine the direction of GOP politics, saying that instead of deciding where “to take the party” the GOP should focus on going “back to the basics.”

“We’re moving on,” Sununu said. “Don’t worry about whether you’re pro or anti Trump, or whether you didn’t care for this or that statement. When it comes to him, we’re moving on.”

Despite sharing this sentiment, Sununu admitted to supporting Trump’s campaigns in both 2016 and 2020.

The Yale Buckley Program was founded in 2010 and launched in 2011.

Correction, Dec. 11:A previous version of this article said that John Spagnola graduated from Yale College 1973. In fact, he graduated in 1979. The article has been updated to reflect this. 

Correction, Dec. 11: A previous version of this article said that there had been an announcement that Governor Sununu would be joining the Buckley’s monthly board. In fact, the announcement contained ambiguity and Sununu will not be joining the board. The article has been updated to reflect this. 

Ines Chomnalez writes for the University desk covering Yale Law School. She previously wrote for the Arts desk. Ines is a sophomore in Pierson College majoring in History and Cognitive Science.
Ben Raab covers faculty and academics at Yale and writes about the Yale men's basketball team. Originally from New York City, Ben is a sophomore in Pierson college pursuing a double major in history and political science.