Cruz on campus: Texas senator speaks at Yale, meets with student backlash
Ted Cruz’s April 2022 speaking stint at the University ignited discussions of free speech and intellectual diversity on campus.
Ted Cruz, the Republican junior Senator from Texas, recorded a live episode of his podcast “Verdict” on April 11, 2022, in front of a packed audience at the Omni Hotel. He was joined onstage by cohost Michael Knowles ’12, a conservative political commentator.
The event was organized by the William F. Buckley Jr. Program — an on-campus organization dedicated to “promoting intellectual diversity and free speech,” according to its website — in partnership with the Young America Foundation’s Irving Brown Lecture Series.
At the event, Cruz and Knowles spoke for over an hour, discussing issues including education, free speech and intellectual diversity. Cruz’s visit to New Haven was met with student backlash and retaliatory action by several left-leaning on-campus organizations.
“Yale students rarely have the opportunity to hear from speakers like Sen. Cruz, and listening to different perspectives in good faith fosters a healthy and lively discourse both on campus and beyond,” Buckley Program President Kevin Xiao ’23 wrote in an email to the News ahead of the event.
The Buckley Program frequently hosts political programming featuring controversial guests. It has been known to host a “disinvitation dinner” for guests whose views have earned them backlash, such as Henry Kissinger, Peter Thiel and Charles Murray.
Before the event, Xiao also emphasized Cruz’s willingness and eagerness to answer questions from students whose viewpoints diverge from his own.
Knowles also spoke to the importance of Cruz’s visit in bringing diversity of thought to the University.
“Yale certainly lacks intellectual diversity,” Knowles told the News. “Nearly every dollar that faculty members donate to political candidates or causes goes to Democrats. But ‘diversity’ is not good in and of itself. Intellectual diversity may be a fine means to an end, but that end must be truth.”
Ahead of Cruz’s visit, many students voiced their criticism of the Buckley Program’s choice to host such a controversial figure.
Many students expressed anger and concern over the mere presence of a figure like Cruz at the University. Jamie Nicolas ’25, for example, worried that the senator’s presence at Yale would “give him a platform” and “affirm his actions.”
“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. “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.”
Xiao emphasized that students’ individual beliefs should not factor into their response to Cruz’s appearance; rather, they should welcome the opportunity to hear a perspective different from their own.
The event itself lasted roughly two hours and consisted of the recorded conversation between Knowles and Cruz followed by a question-and-answer session with the audience, moderated by conservative political commentator Liz Wheeler.
Throughout the event, Knowles and Cruz addressed the question of education. The two discussed Florida’s March 2020 “Parental Rights in Education” bill — known by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — for which Cruz voiced support. Cruz also condemned the teaching of critical race theory, claiming it a divisive tactic of “revisionist history.”
Both Cruz and Knowles specifically addressed students with conservative viewpoints, encouraging them to openly voice their opinions on social issues.
“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.”
The conservative duo also discussed the then-recent confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. During Jackson’s confirmation, Cruz made national headlines for his aggressive questioning, which scrutinized her stance on critical race theory and discrimination against transgender people.
During the Q&A portion of the event, Maia Cook ’25 interrogated the Senator about his behavior at Jackson’s confirmation hearings, which Cook believed was “flagrantly racist.”
“Racism is a really big evil in this context,” Cruz responded. “It is also an insult the left tosses around casually. Every single question I asked her concerned her record … And so respectfully, I could not disagree more deeply when you say it is racist to examine a judge based on their record.”
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, as it turned out, Cruz and Knowles were met with little overt pushback.
Rather than directly protesting the event, many left-leaning 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 liberal causes.
The day began with a Cross Campus fundraiser that raised over $1,600 for Texas-based organizations — including 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, attack on 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 communities left behind by Sen. Cruz and his political allies,” Dems President Kyle Mayer ’23 told the News.
Student response to the Cruz event was underscored by ongoing campus tensions surrounding an earlier incident at the Yale Law School. In March 2022, over 100 students gathered to protest a panel featuring Kristen Waggoner, who counsels for a conservative legal group designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate organization.
Both the Cruz event and the Waggoner controversy ignited discussions and debates over the nature of free speech at Yale and on university campuses more broadly.
“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 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.”
In 2013, Ted Cruz became the 34th United States senator from Texas.