The Taboo Factor: Marist College and Current Ties to Bill O’Reilly

By: Andrew Auger and Erin Murtha

Marist College is currently facing difficult decisions regarding the amount of distance they would like to put between the school and Bill O’Reilly, former Fox News political pundit. O’Reilly was fired from the network on April 19 after reports of at least five past legal monetary settlements regarding sexual harassment claims were made against him. This is not the first time a former Fox News employee has placed his alma mater in an unfavorable position.

In the fall of 2016, Ohio University made the decision to remove then-Fox News CEO Roger Ailes’ name from their college newsroom after multiple allegations of sexual harassment were levied upon him during the preceding summer. Ailes had made a $500,000 grant to his alma mater in 2007 and, after much deliberation, Ohio University decided to return the gift to him.

“I believe this to be an appropriate decision that is in alignment with our principled beliefs as a university community,” said President Roderick McDavis in a statement.

Newspaper clipping from O’Reilly’s time as a punter for Marist in the early 1970’s. Picture from O’Reilly’s official website.

Marist is now in a similar situation regarding O’Reilly, who graduated from Marist in 1971 as an undergraduate studying history. He played as a punter and placekicker for the club football team and was a writer for the Marist College newspaper The Circle. In 1996, The O’Reilly Factor premiered on Fox News, where it went on to become the highest-rated cable news show of all-time.

While not always frequent, O’Reilly has kept ties to Marist throughout his career. The school honored O’Reilly with an honorary degree in 2001, and he returned in 2007 to help usher in the opening of the new football field, Tenney Stadium. Marist has no buildings or facilities named after O’Reilly, but he does have connections to two major scholarships that are given out or in development by the school.

The Winifred and William O’Reilly Scholarship, an award that is named after O’Reilly’s parents, annually supports an upperclassman that shows exemplary commitment to community involvement. In December 2015, O’Reilly gave a $1 million gift to the school for The Peter P. O’Keefe, Ph.D. Endowed Scholarship, named after one of O’Reilly’s most influential professors at Marist. Starting with the Class of 2020, the scholarship will be given out to one student annually who has shown exemplary leadership skills, but would be financially burdened by the cost of tuition.

“We are very grateful to Bill, a longtime supporter of the College, for this most generous gift,” then-Marist President Dennis J. Murray commented at the time of the donation. “With all of his professional accomplishments, it’s great for Bill to remember students who have Marist as their top college choice, but are unable to attend without financial support.”

The funding for the O’Keefe scholarship originally came with the perk of meeting O’Reilly in a mentorship role. No word has come through whether that will still be a part of the scholarship. In fact, according to Gregory Cannon, Marist College Chief Public Affairs Officer, no official decisions have been made in regards to O’Reilly’s name or his connections to the school.

“He has been a donor in the past beyond this sizable gift,” Cannon said. “To my knowledge, there has been no official word on the future of these.”

O’Reilly’s recent troubles have not just been a problem for Marist to deal with, but also for Boston University. O’Reilly returned to school in 1973 to receive his masters degree in broadcast journalism from BU. In 2014, O’Reilly donated $10,000 in assistance to the school newspaper The Daily Free Press (also known as Free P). The paper needed $67,000 in financial aid to continue printing and had started a GoFundMe campaign to help keep it afloat.

Tom Fiedler, Dean of Boston University’s College of Communication, commented on O’Reilly’s firing. He did not rule out a return to the good graces of the university in the future, but he did state that it was important that O’Reilly “try to make it right and move forward.”

For now, it remains unclear how Marist College will respond (if at all) to the scandal. The pressure within the Marist community has been minimal, but that could change in the coming weeks. There is a chance that President David Yellen and the Office of Advancement may soon need to address the accusations towards one of their most famous alumni members.

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