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Encyclopedia > Yale Political Union
The Yale Political Union
Founded 1934
Home Page The Yale Political Union

Elected Officers of the Union, Fall 2008 Image File history File links No higher resolution available. ...

President George Singer, Tory (SY '10)
Vice-President Laura Marcus, Tory (MC '10)
Speaker Carmen Lee, IP (BR '09)
Director of Development Marie Diamond, Lib (SY '10)
Director of Campus Relations George Bogden, PoL (SM '11)
Floorleader of the Left David Broockman, Lib (JE '11)
Floorleader of the Right Trevor Wagener, CP (PC '11)
Treasurer Fernando Reyes, PoL (BR '10)

Party Chairs/Chairmen

Liberal Party Quinlan O'Connor (ES '10)
Party of the Left Alexander Martone (JE '10)
Progressive Party Jane Hu (CC '09)
Independent Party Geoff Shaw (BR '10)
Conservative Party Adam Hirst (BR '10)
Tory Party Peter Johnston (SY '09)
Party of the Right Jake McGuire (PC '10)

Appointed Officers

Secretary Tristyn Bloom, PoR (JE '11)
Teller Mike Educate, IP (TC '11)
Social Chair Joyce Arnold, IP (MC '10)
Webmaster Fernando Reyes, PoL (BR '10)

The Yale Political Union (YPU), a debate society that is the largest student organization at Yale University, was founded in 1934 by Professor Alfred Whitney Griswold (19061963), who would later become University President, to combat the apathy that characterized Yale's political culture in the 1930s. It was modelled on the Cambridge University and Oxford University Unions, and members of the YPU have reciprocal rights at its sister societies in England. [1] The Union has at times been the central forum for political discussion and activism at Yale. Its officers over the years have included Senator John Kerry, Senator David Boren, Attorney General Edwin Meese, Governor George Pataki, and William F. Buckley. Yale redirects here. ... Year 1934 (MCMXXXIV) was a common year starting on Monday (link will display full 1934 calendar) of the Gregorian calendar. ... Alfred Whitney Griswold (27 October 1906 - 19 April 1963) was an American historian and educator, and President of Yale University. ... Year 1906 (MCMVI) was a common year starting on Monday (link will display full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar (or a common year starting on Sunday of the 13-day-slower Julian calendar). ... For other uses, see 1963 (disambiguation). ... The University of Cambridge (often Cambridge University), located in Cambridge, England, is the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world and has a reputation as one of the most prestigious universities in the world. ... The University of Oxford, located in the city of Oxford in England, is the oldest university in the English-speaking world. ... John Forbes Kerry (born December 11, 1943) is the junior United States Senator from Massachusetts, in his fourth term of office. ... David Lyle Boren (born April 21, 1941) was a United States Senator from Oklahoma from 1979 to 1994. ... Edwin Meese III Edwin Ed Meese III (born December 2, 1931 in Oakland, California) served as the seventy-fifth Attorney General of the United States (1985-1988). ... George Elmer Pataki (born June 24, 1945) is an American politician who was the 57th Governor of New York serving from January 1995 until January 1, 2007. ... William F. Buckley may refer to: William Francis Buckley, U.S. Army officer and CIA operative William F. Buckley, Jr. ...

The Union is a non-partisan debate society. A speaker moderates weekly debates according to Robert's Rules of Order. The Union's highest ranking officer is the President, elected for a term of one semester, who oversees the Union's day to day affairs and provides leadership in setting the tone of any given semester. [1] The office of President was split into the offices of President and Speaker in late 1961. 1876 edition Roberts Rules of Order is the informal short title of a book containing rules of order intended to be adopted for use by a deliberative assembly. ...

A prominent figure (e.g., politician, journalist, etc.) is often invited to keynote a Yale Political Union debate. Students then have the opportunity to ask questions of the guest, and then give speeches of their own, either in support or opposition to the resolution. This ability to allow students to interact with relevant political figures is often considered one of the great strengths of the organization.



The Union is an umbrella organization that currently contains seven Parties: the Liberal Party (Lib), the Party of the Left (PoL), the Progressive Party (Prog), the Independent Party (IP), the Conservative Party (CP), the Tory Party (Tory), and the Party of the Right (PoR). [2] [3] These Parties are actually independent debating societies that host their own debates and activities apart from Union activities, though members will come together for weekly Union debates. The Parties are traditionally listed in the order given above, from Left to Right. [2]

In the past the Political Union has had other Parties, including a Bull Moose Party, a Constitutional Union Party, and a Labor Party, but not all at the same time. Seven Parties is an all time high for the total number of parties. Two is the all time low. Four has been fairly typical. All of the Parties contribute in their own unique way to the Union's character.

Though party size and membership varies greatly over the decades, currently the Independent Party is the largest Party in the Union, maintaining a bit more than a quarter of the voting membership of the Union. The Party of the Right follows at roughly two-thirds of the size of the Independent Party, with the Party of the Left next at about half as large as the Independent Party. The Liberal, Tory, Conservative, and Progressive Parties follow in that order, all between three-quarters and three-fifths the size of the Party of the Left.

These Parties have their own political leanings, as their names might suggest, but they are better understood as being distinguished by different styles. For instance, the Parties on the Right tend to have more formal debates that cover philosophical topics. The Parties on the Left tend to have a more casual atmosphere than the Parties on the Right, while still engaging in political dialogue.

The Liberal Party is one of the three founding constituent Parties of the Political Union, along with the Conservatives and the (now defunct) Labor Party. The Liberal Party holds discussions rather than debates, and tends to be less formal.

The Party of the Left was formed to satisfy a desire for more formal philosophical debate on the Left of the Union, emphasizing a synthesis of first principles and policy. PoL debates are more formal than Liberal Party debates and more serious than those of the Progressive Party. PoL debates often concern "the questions that divide the Left."

The Progressive Party defines itself as "debating silly topics using perfect parliamentary procedure." The Progressive Party takes pride in being able to bring a sense of a humor to the Union floor, and student speakers at a debate should be prepared for one of the classic "Prog questions," which often contain a lot of innuendo and can be tricky to answer appropriately.

The Independent Party covers nearly the entire political spectrum. The Independent Party has been the largest of the seven Parties since 2001. The Party, unlike others in the Union, debates policy as well as philosophy and is known for its explicit goal and motto: "Hear All Sides".

The Conservative Party is committed to the production of principled and profound leaders. The Party's debates focus on the principles of Western Civilization, and are often highly philosophical.

The Tory Party developed from a split in the Party of the Right during the Spring of 1969. The Tory Party is a society of philosophical conservatives, tending toward Burkean traditionalism, an English aesthetic, and "reasoned conservatism." The Tory Party's attitude toward the Union has often been reserved, but has been more active in recent years.

The Party of the Right was founded in 1952, in a reaction to the perceived leftward movement in the Conservative Party. The Party has been described in a recent Yale Herald article as "at once flamboyant, intellectually elitist, aggressive, mischievously subversive, eccentric, and maniacally eager to challenge anyone and everyone." It is fond of saying: "We care not what you think, only that you think." There is no political litmus test for membership.


"This Union can be of undoubted value to nation and to the University, provided it maintains independence and voices the true thoughts of those participating...Honest debates will help in the search for truthful answers." - Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933

Founded in 1934, the Yale Political Union has played a key role on Yale's campus for more than 70 years. Like most organizations, it has had periods of flourishing, as well as less prosperous spells. Once the only organization devoted to political debate on campus, it remains a unique and high-quality forum for oratory and political dialogue. [4]

All sides agree that the Union is not as influential as it once was. Members note that this is the result of several factors. Many believe that it is simply one of the effects of Yale's metamorphosis from Old Yale into the vibrant modern Yale of 2008, which has notably included the rise of activism on campus. A few point to the presidency of current Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry, who was President of the YPU as an undergraduate at Yale. Kerry attempted to create a more national role for the organization, with a greater emphasis on outside speakers. Some Union members felt that this removed the YPU's focus from its most central goal of student debate, and given Kerry's subsequent prominence he is frequently cited as a negative turning point by members on the right, although he did enjoy enough support to be reelected. Eventually, Union debate came to be a combination of a keynote speaker and ensuing student speeches. This push and pull between outside speakers and student debate has characterized the Union for at least thirty years. John Forbes Kerry (born December 11, 1943) is the junior United States Senator from Massachusetts. ...

The YPU regained strength throughout the 1970s, during which period the Liberal Party was by far the largest, but then it suffered a severe blow shortly after A. Bartlett Giamatti became the Yale President. Giamatti, violating numerous agreements and covenants established with the Union, "repurposed" the YPU building/debate hall. Today, it is used for office space and storage. [5] Angelo Bartlett Bart Giamatti (April 4, 1938 – September 1, 1989) was the President of Yale University, and later, the 7th commissioner of Major League Baseball in the United States. ...

After several years of rebuilding, the Union recovered its numerical strength. This recovery moved into rapid gear during Spring term of 1984 when membership tripled to 900 during a term highlighted by a nationally televised debate. By the end of 1986, active membership rolls comprised over 1200 members, nearly 1/4 of the entire student body at Yale, and the YPU successfully launched a Model Congress, a magazine, an annual three-day visit to Washington DC (for meetings with Cabinet Members, Supreme Court Justices, IMF and World Bank heads, foreign Ambassadors and even the Director of the National Gallery of Art), and an on-topic debate team (which sent two union members overseas to the world debate champtionships). Then, the one-vote failure of an attempt to acquire the much financially stronger Yale International Relations (Model UN) program at Yale in Spring 1987 (which would have made for a political powerhouse on campus), and the earlier 1980's loss of the YPU's dedicated facilities slowed momentum, and membership declined after a poor recruit in the fall of 1988.

In the early 1990s, membership reached its peak in YPU history. It then fell again, as a spurt of new political organizations on campus diverted politically active Yalies.[6] Though smaller, the parties were relatively stronger and tighter institutions during this period. Most have remained intimate organizations, though with somewhat larger membership, to the current day.

One of the few enduring YPU spinoff publications, Rumpus Magazine, was founded by members of the Progressive Party in 1992. For the first 3-4 years of its publication, Rumpus remained closely linked to the YPU. One of the more sordid scandals of the period, involving a member who misappropriated the YPU's long-distance phone access number for calls to a racy 1-900 number from his senior single, was broken by Rumpus in the Fall of 1994. Rumpus Magazine is a tabloid publication produced by students at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. ...

As more and more Yale undergraduate organizations were founded, the YPU had the misfortune of losing its offices under Bingham Hall. It was moved to an office on Crown Street, where it currently resides, although the Union has recently begun a capital campaign to raise funds for a new building. [7] During its various moves, many irreplaceable historical archives were lost, although the YPU's collection of paraphernalia signed by noteworthy public figures is sizeable. The YPU hit a low point in membership in the late 1990s. The YPU President, an Independent Party member, was impeached in the Fall of 1997, leading to the near collapse of the Independent Party. The effects of this crisis took some time to reverse, though by 2001 the Independent Party was largely restored and began an impressive period of growth. Although membership remains roughly 25% of its last peak in the 1990s, the Political Union is nevertheless the largest undergraduate organization at Yale, with approximately 325 active members (as of the end of 2007). [8]


Union Officers are elected at the end of each semester (except for the Treasurer who holds a year-long term). All Officers are members of the Executive Board of the Union, although not all of the Officers have votes on the Executive Board. There are two primary officers, a Speaker, and a President, and a number of other offices, that have varied over the years, including Vice President(s), Treasurer, and Secretary. The Speaker is the most important officer during the actual periods when the Yale Political Union is in session, and runs the meetings, deciding on points of parliamentary procedure as necessary. The President is the most important officer while the Yale Political Union is not in session, and runs the Executive Board, with primary responsibility for planning the meetings, the seasonal calendar, and the overall strategy of the group.

The Advisory Committee

The recent constitutional amendments passed on April 4, 2006, created a new Advisory Committee to "advise the Executive Board and the President and provide long term planning for the Union." Past Presidents of the Union are automatically nominated for membership, subject to approval by the Executive Board, and there may be up to four other members on the Committee at any one time (subject to nomination by the Chairman of the Committee and approval by the Executive Board). [3] The Senior Sometime President on the Committee is constitutionally designated as the Chairman of the Committee.

The Advisory Committee was the object of criticism from some members of the Union who believed it to have acted in an inappropriate fashion during the Presidential elections of the Fall Term of 2006.


Each Party in the Political Union is headed by a Chairman, although the Liberal Party and the Party of the Left use the gender-neutral term 'Chair.' (During the tenure of the Chairmen of the Party of the Right and Conservative Party, the holder of that office prefers to be referred to as "The Chairman" instead of his or her given name.) All of these Chairmen either serve personally on or send proxies to the Executive Board and the Rules Committee of the Union.

Notable Alumni

Former Union President John Kerry
Former Union President John Kerry

Notable alumni of the YPU include: Image File history File links Download high resolution version (1109x1700, 215 KB) Description Promotional photograph of John Kerry with columns in the background. ... Image File history File links Download high resolution version (1109x1700, 215 KB) Description Promotional photograph of John Kerry with columns in the background. ...

This article or section should be merged with William P. Bundy William Putnam Bundy (September 24, 1917-October 6, 2000) was a member of the CIA and advisor to President Lyndon B. Johnson. ... Edwin Meese III Edwin Ed Meese III (born December 2, 1931 in Oakland, California) served as the seventy-fifth Attorney General of the United States (1985-1988). ... John Forbes Kerry (born December 11, 1943) is the junior United States Senator from Massachusetts. ... James Harvie Wilkinson III (born in New York, New York, September 29, 1944) is a federal judge serving on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. ... Richard Brookhiser, a journalist, biographer and historian, is a senior editor at National Review and columnist for the New York Observer. ... Evan Wolfson is an American lawyer and prominent advocate of same sex marriage. ... Peter D. Keisler (born October 13, 1960 in Hempstead, New York) is the Acting Attorney General of the United States, an Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, and a nominee for a federal judgeship on the United States Court of... Michael J. Astrue is the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. ... Fareed Zakaria (born January 20, 1964, Mumbai, India) is a journalist, columnist, author, editor, commentator, and television host specializing in international relations and foreign affairs. ... David Lyle Boren (born April 21, 1941) was a United States Senator from Oklahoma from 1979 to 1994. ... Robert Alphonso Bob Taft II (born January 8, 1942) is an American Republican politician. ... George Elmer Pataki (born June 24, 1945) is an American politician who was the 57th Governor of New York serving from January 1995 until January 1, 2007. ... William F. Buckley may refer to: William Francis Buckley, U.S. Army officer and CIA operative William F. Buckley, Jr. ...

Notable recent guests

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External links

  1. ^ "TWO YALE GROUPS TURN TO POLITICS; New Union's Plan to Train an Intelligent Minority for Leadership Is Approved.", The New York Times, December 9, 1934.
  2. ^ "Can the YPU bring back its glory days?" The Yale Herald, September 9, 2005 Vol. XL, No. 2.
  3. ^ "Party of the Left seeks to leave no leftist behind" The Yale Herald, March 31, 2006 Vol. XLI, No. 10.
  4. ^ "Can the YPU bring back its glory days?" The Yale Herald, September 9, 2005 Vol. XL, No. 2.
  5. ^ "YPU begins inquiry into storied past." Yale Daily News, November 29, 2007.
  6. ^ "The Yale Political Scene--left, right and center." The Yale Herald, Freshman Issue, Summer 1998.
  7. ^ "YPU begins inquiry into storied past." Yale Daily News, November 29, 2007.
  8. ^ "YPU begins inquiry into storied past." Yale Daily News, November 29, 2007.

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