Marist Republican Club Response to Bill O’Reilly’s Honorary Degree Retraction

To the Marist College Board of Trustees, the Yellen Administration, and all those who the matter may concern:

We members of the Marist College Republicans Club understand the pain caused by sexual harassment. We support and sympathize with anyone, man or woman, who is victimized by sexual harassment or abuse. Further, we support any action that Marist College chooses to take going forward to address the pressing issue of sexual harassment and misconduct on this campus. We do, however, have some significant concerns about the Marist College Board of Trustees’ decision to revoke the honorary degree previously awarded to famed author and television host and noted Marist Alumnus Bill O’Reilly. These concerns will be outlined in the proceeding document.

As Republicans, we hold up as a central political virtue the ideal of justice, specifically as it manifests in the principles of the rule of law and due process. As such, it is important that those who are accused of sexual harassment are given the opportunity to defend themselves in a court of law, in the context of a trial that is fair to both the accusers and the accused, and that they are found guilty if the requisite evidence is brought to bear and innocent if it is not. We must avoid, at all costs, trying and convicting people in the court of public opinion, which is anathema to all of the principles previously articulated.

Further, we understand the difficult situation in which the Marist College Board of Trustees has been placed in the aftermath of the sexual harassment allegations made against Bill O’Reilly. Mr. O’Reilly is perhaps Marist’s most famous alumnus, and as such it is easy to understand how his public behavior can serve as a reflection of our college community. As President David Yellen said in his memorandum to the Marist community, “Any form of sexual harassment or abuse is deeply contrary to the values of Marist College”.

It is also important to us as Republicans that those in positions of power, who are trusted to make difficult decisions in these difficult situations, make those decisions with the best and purest intentions, exercising right judgement and resisting the temptation to virtue signal. In this post-Weinstein era, there has emerged a new focus on the horrors of sexual harassment and the importance of protecting victims thereof. This new focus is, of course, a profoundly positive development, and we should all do our part to ensure that this popular momentum translates into decisive cultural progress. This cultural progress cannot be actualized, however, through inconsistent and empty gestures.

If the Marist College Board of Trustees has voted to revoke the honorary degree previously awarded to Mr. O’Reilly because they are truly concerned about sexual harassment, then the move is justified. If, however, this action was designed simply to humiliate and punish Mr. O’Reilly because of his political persuasion at a time where the court of public opinion has made it possible to do so, then the move is unjustifiable and wholly unacceptable.

Of course, there is no way for any of us to know the true intentions of those who voted to revoke this honorary degree, or of those who signed the petition demanding that they do so. Instead, we must determine whether this administration is motivated by legitimate concern or cynical opportunism based off of whatever actions they take going forward to combat the very real threat of sexual harassment and assault felt by hundreds of men and women on this campus. If appropriate action is taken to make Marist a safer place for all students, while still respecting the rights to due process and the assumption of innocence afforded to all of us by our Constitution, then the Marist College Republicans Club stands behind the administration. Conversely, if no such action is taken, or if it becomes apparent by the rhetoric of those in support of this revocation that this action was politically motivated and partisan in nature, then the Marist College Republicans Club firmly and categorically denounces this action and demands that the administration reconsider its position and act in the best interest of the Marist College Community.

 As long as this decision stands, we call on the administration of Marist College to follow to its natural conclusion the internal logic of their decision. If Mr. O’Reilly’s actions are so reprehensible that it is necessary for the administration to distance itself from him, then they must also be so reprehensible that they cannot, in good conscience, benefit from the donations made by Mr. O’Reilly to the school. We should expect, therefore, that the Marist College Board of Trustees, should it choose not to reconsider their decision, will decline to accept any future donations from Mr. O’Reilly, and will also be returning all previously accepted donations promptly. While there are those who would argue that this action would only punish the students who benefit from Mr. O’Reilly’s donations through scholarships, we would respond that the Board of Trustees certainly has the capacity to procure the necessary funds to replace these donations.

    We further call on the Board of Trustees, in the name of intellectual consistency, to revoke the honorary degree previously awarded to former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, who was reported in 2008 to have been caught on a federal wiretap arranging to meet with a prostitute. It was eventually revealed that investigators believed that Governor Spitzer had payed up to $80,000 over the course of several years for prostitution services. Governor Spitzer later resigned as governor, and the Department of Justice declined to prosecute him. Further still, The Board of Trustees should examine the actions of everyone who has ever received an honorary degree from Marist College, in the interest of preserving Marist’s image, of combating sexual harassment, and of course of intellectual consistency. While the Marist College Republicans Club is willing to grant some leniency to public figures for their personal shortcomings, as no one of us is perfect, we are unwilling to tolerate the application of this leniency in an inconsistent and possibly biased manner.

We offer this statement not in defense of the actions which Mr. O’Reilly is alleged to have committed, or as an attempt to provide cover for a political actor with whom we at least in part agree. Further, we do not take breaking with our administration in such a public way lightly. We offer this statement in the hopes that it will act as a voice of calm, of reason, and of prudence in this tumultuous time—and because we feel that it is our duty as concerned citizens who value truth and virtue. In pursuance of our dedication to the axiomatic values of free speech and honest, open political discourse, we invite any and all discussion of this matter.

Most sincerely and respectfully;

Marist College Republican Club