At its eighth annual conference, the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale hosted more than 200 attendees for a daylong discussion of conservative values, according to founder and executive director Lauren Noble.
The conference, which took place on Friday at the Omni New Haven Hotel, delved into the state of conservative America today, highlighting the ideas of political theorist and seminal conservative author Russell Kirk. The event featured speeches and panel discussions on topics ranging from the tenuous union of libertarians and conservatives to the intellectual diversity — or potential lack thereof — on college campuses. In addition to the featured discussions, there were numerous opportunities for the attendees, many of whom were Yale alumni and students, to network and mingle.
“I feel lucky that Yale is not in the same state that it was back in 2015. Free speech is definitely still threatened on campus, but not as blatantly as it was during the Halloween incident and the events leading up to the renaming of Calhoun to Hopper and the changing of [the title] master to head of college,” said Cameron Koffman ’19, president of the Buckley Program. “However, this is no reason to be complacent.”
The conference focused heavily on exploring both the theory and practice of American conservatism in academia and politics. Many of the speakers contrasted each of their own interpretations of conservatism with that of President Donald Trump, who tends to favor a populist version.
“I was looking at some of the panels, and a lot of the intellectual conservatives don’t get Trump or where the conservative movement is going,” said attendee Frank Mongillo ’90. “There’s a little bit of a disconnect — a lot of our speakers are not Trump supporters.”
Those tensions became apparent during the second panel of the day, which was an exploration of the intellectual discourse between conservatives and libertarians. According to panelist Megan McArdle, a columnist for The Washington Post, conservatives and libertarians are held together by a mutual “hatred of liberals.” In many cases, she continued, “liberal overreach,” such as the lawsuit against a baker who refused to cater a gay wedding, reinforces the bond between anti-liberal cohorts. However, all members of the panel agreed that resistance to the left cannot always overpower the differences between varying right-leaning factions.
Numerous attendees bemoaned the dominance of liberal ideas on college campuses. According to attendee Michael Deshaies, a vice president at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni — a nonprofit that aims to safeguard free speech on college campuses — free speech on college campuses is often suppressed, which results in many students lacking sufficient exposure to opposing views.
“I think Yale has lost its way in the world, and the Buckley Program is providing something that is badly needed in the Yale community,” said Francis Menton ’72. “There are ideas that are not getting much of a voice at Yale today.”
Menton cited multiculturalism and “victim studies” as examples of where he believes Yale has gone astray.
All of the approximately 10 younger attendees approached at the conference declined to speak to the News.
For the first time in Buckley conference history, the event opened with a small career opportunities fair. A number of publications, advocacy groups and think tanks set up small displays accompanied by candy and swag. A number of the younger attendees, including current students, stopped by the tables to listen to pitches by organizations such as the conservative magazine National Review and Yankee Institute, a public policy think tank that opposes freeway tolls.
The event concluded with a lengthy dinner, during which the program’s student board handed out the awards to the winners of this year’s high school and college essay contests. As attendees finished eating, George F. Will, a political commentator who has appeared extensively on MSNBC and Fox News, among other news outlets, delivered the event’s keynote address. Over the course of an hour, Will criticized the association of American conservatism with Christian theism. America’s Founding Fathers were decidedly against the inclusion of religious rhetoric in American law, he said.
According to Noble, the conference was a success, and she has received positive feedback from a number of those who attended.
“Buckley Program events are designed to appeal to anyone who values free speech and intellectual diversity, regardless of their political views,” Noble wrote in an email to the News.
The William F. Buckley, Jr. Program was founded in 2010 by Yale undergraduates.