Lukas Flippo, Senior Photographer

Republican Senator Ted Cruz visited Yale’s campus on Monday, April 11, 2022, to record a live episode of his podcast “Verdict,” joined by cohost and conservative political commentator Michael Knowles ’12, at an event held at the Omni Hotel.

At the discussion, which was organized by the William F. Buckley Jr. Program in partnership with the Young America Foundation Irving Series, Cruz and Knowles discussed issues of free speech and intellectual diversity on Yale’s campus; however, Cruz’s visit to New Haven was met with backlash from several on-campus student groups.

One student, Jamie Nicolas ’25, previously told the News that Cruz visiting Yale would “give him a platform” and “affirm his actions.” Another student, Carly Benson ’24, who is from Texas, said she felt confused as to why Cruz would bother coming to campus at all, noting that she had already heard people plan to boycott or protest the event. 

The Buckley Program at Yale, an organization committed to “promoting intellectual diversity and free speech,” according to its website, is known for frequently bringing controversial guests to Yale’s campus to discuss topics of free speech. Throughout the Class of 2024’s time at Yale, the group has hosted several such guests, including former United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in November 2022, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson ’73, and Yale Law School professor Amy Chua.

“That some perspectives diverging from those held commonly may have value, does not mean that perspectives have value because they diverge from the majority,” Texan student Naomi D’Arbell Bobadilla ’22 told the News in 2022 ahead of Cruz’s visit. “This is especially worth remembering when the majority in question is the majority of people who did not enable a right-wing insurrection, which Ted Cruz did.” 

Before their discussion at the event, then-Buckley president Kevin Xiao ’23 highlighted the significance of Cruz’s visit to Yale and the opportunity for him to speak with students holding differing viewpoints. Knowles also emphasized this point, stating that “Yale certainly lacks intellectual diversity” and underscoring the importance, in his view, of bringing intellectual diversity to the University.

Throughout the discussion, Knowles and Cruz discussed several topics such as education in which Cruz voiced support for Florida’s March 2020 “Parental Rights in Education” bill, known by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and opposed the teaching of critical race theory. 

The two also discussed the confirmation of then-recent Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to sit on the nation’s highest court. During Jackson’s confirmation hearing, Cruz made national headlines for his aggressive questioning on topics such as critical race theory and discrimination against transgender people.

​​“If you take an unpopular position, you risk being denigrated, you risk being ostracized,” Cruz said during the event. “And so people often just shut up about it, [they] just say, ‘You know, I’m going to keep my views quiet.’ How you come through that, I think, is one of the real testing aspects of education.”

Both opposed students and members of the Buckley Program anticipated protests ahead of the event. Xiao said that he welcomed any protests conducted “peacefully and in a manner that does not disrupt the event.” 

However, rather than directly protesting the event, many campus organizations — such as Yale College Democrats, The Yale Politic, the Yale Undergraduate Legal Aid Association, and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán — planned a day of action for their causes.

The day included a Cross Campus fundraiser that raised over $1,600 for Texas-based organizations, such as the Texas ACLU, the Texas Organizing Project, Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas and the Central Texas Transgender Health Coalition. Following the fundraiser was a panel discussing the Jan. 6, 2021 riots, the day in which a mob of supporters of former president Donald Trump surged the United States Capitol, and a phone-banking session in support of Democratic Texas state Senate candidates.

“Our programming is inspired by our faith in direct action and commitment to supporting grassroots organizations that serve communications left by Sen. Cruz and his political allies,” then-Dems President Kyle Mayer ’23 told the News.

Protests surrounding Cruz’s visit to campus were not the only ones related to free speech at the time. At Yale Law School in March 2022, over 100 students gathered to protest a panel featuring Kristen Waggoner, who serves as president of the conservative legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom, which was designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate organization. More recently, in April 2024, Erin Hawley LAW ’05, who counsels for the ADF and argued against the right to abortion pills at the Supreme Court, also visited the Law School.

Both Cruz and Waggoner’s visits to campus raised discussions surrounding free speech on Yale and college campuses around the nation

On Sept. 29, 2022, U.S. Circuit Judge James Ho called for a boycott of hiring law clerks from Yale in a speech to a Federalist Society conference in Kentucky. Ho cited concerns about free speech, saying Yale tolerates “cancel culture,” especially against conservatives. On Oct. 7, 2022, Federal Appeals Court Judge Elizabeth Branch announced she would join the boycott in a statement to the National Review released.

Last October, Law School Dean Heather Gerken announced a new program, Crossing Divides, aimed to encourage discussion across political and ideological lines.  The program seeks to equip law students with the skills to collaborate with individuals from different backgrounds, according to the Law School’s website. The program has hosted several events throughout the 2023-24 academic year featuring top government officials from opposing ideological sides, all focused on the theme of working across political lines.

“Such differences of opinion remind us of why we have free speech, especially at institutions of higher learning where the mission is the cultivation and creation of new knowledge,” Xiao previously told the News. “Students should be able to hear different voices, engage with them in good faith, and decide for ourselves whether we agree or disagree. Only through open and honest discussion can we grow and better understand our own values and beliefs.”

Cruz received his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1995.

ADAM WALKER
Adam Walker is the University Editor of the Yale Daily News. He previously covered Yale Law School for the University desk. Originally from Long Island, New York, he is a rising junior in Branford College double majoring in Economics and American Studies.