December 10, 2021 by Joe Mahoney
ALBANY — Under fire from lawmakers and faculty and student activists, SUNY Chancellor James Malatras announced today he is resigning from his $450,000-a-year job, declaring he wants to avoid becoming an “impediment” to the success of the 64-campus system.
Malatras said in a letter to Merryl Tisch, chairwoman of the SUNY Board of Trustees, that he will vacate the post Jan. 14.
The trustees hired Malatras in August 2020 at the behest of then Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Before that, Malatras, a member of Cuomo’s inner circle, had worked on Cuomo’s pandemic memoir, a project for which the then governor was paid more than $5 million by his publisher.
Malatras was also involved in editing a controversial state Health Department report that critics charge undercounted the true number of COVID-related nursing home fatalities in New York at a time when Cuomo was claiming credit for New York having a more successful pandemic response than other states.
“The recent events surrounding me over the past week have become a distraction over the important work that needs to be accomplished as SUNY emerges from COVID-19,” Malatras said in a statement released by the SUNY communications office.
He also said:“Recent events surrounding me over the past week have become a distraction. I believe deeply in an individual’s ability to evolve, change, and grow, but I also believe deeply in SUNY and would never want to be an impediment to its success.”
Gov. Kathy Hochul, when asked by reporters earlier this week whether Malatras should be replaced, said it was not her decision, suggesting his fate would be left to the trustees.
In contrast to Hochul, Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-Nassau County, a candidate for governor, did call for the ouster of Malatras, as did Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-North Country. On Wednesday, 31 Assembly Democrats issued a statement insisting that Malatras resign or be terminated.
Following the chancellor’s announcement, one of his most vehement critics, Assemblyman Ron Kim, D-Queens, questioned why the chancellor is being allowed to remain in the post for another five weeks.
Referencing the recent departure of former state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, Kim tweeted:“Like with Zucker, they need time to burn as much evidence & hand out some corporate giveaways before they exit.”
The controversy over Malatras heated up this month following the disclosure of transcripts by Attorney General Letitita James. In those, text messages and emails harvested by investigators revealed Malatras had maligned and sought to retaliate against Lindsey Boylan, a former Cuomo administration who has alleged the Cuomo administration was afflicted by a“toxic”culture and that Cuomo had sexually harassed her in the workplace.
Cuomo has denied Boylan’s allegations, and Malatras has since indicated he regrets his comments, making those statements only after his messages were publicized.
Boylan today welcomed news of the Malatras departure:“I am in awe of these very same students, faculty and administrators who spoke up to fight for what’s right. They are showing us what the future should look like.”
The uproar over Malatras has also triggered a schism within United University Professionals, the faculty union representing some 37,000 state employees. Its president, Frederick Kowal of Schoharie County, has openly backed Malatras, arguing the chancellor has been effective in guiding the university system through the public health crisis.
Critics of Kowal have been arguing the union president has been on the wrong side of the Malatras controversy, contending Malatras, with just three years of experience as a higher education administrator, should not have been hired without a national search and lacked the necessary qualifications for the prestigious post.
Kowal said today the union is calling for a national search for a new SUNY chancellor.
“Finally, the time is now for the SUNY Board of Trustees to work with UUP and the other unions representing SUNY employees to develop a systemwide, enforceable workplace civility policy to better ensure that our members can work in environments free from toxic and bullying behavior,”Kowal said.
Cuomo left office in August following a string of accusations from women alleging he sexually harassed them. He had also been under fire for the alleged misrepresentation of nursing home death totals and for exploiting the pandemic by profiting from the book deal. He is slated to be arraigned in Albany next month on a charge of forcible touching, based on the sworn statement of a 33-year-old woman employed in the governor’s office.
In addition to Malatras, others whose careers have been impacted by the Cuomo scandals include Cuomo’s brother, Chris Cuomo, fired from his CNN job last week; Zucker, who has been replaced as health commissioner; and several aides to the former governor who were not retained in their appointed positions.
Hochul, though, has kept numerous political appointees of Cuomo in her administration.
Malatras had brought several former Cuomo administration officials with him to SUNY, including Spencer Freedman, former state deputy inspector general.
Malatras also elevated Aaron Gladd, a former Cuomo aide, to SUNY chief of staff at SUNY. Gladd, a Democrat, lost a state Senate race in 2018 and continues to have a campaign web site, though he has publicly stated he is not seeking the Senate seat he ran for three years ago.
SUNY’s assistant chancellor overseeing communications, Leo Rosales, is a former Cuomo administration appointee who joined the university staff in early 2019. Rosales was incorrectly described in the initial release of this story as having been brought to SUNY by Malatras.
Correction: A previous version of this story included incorrect information on one former Cuomo administration who is now employed in a top job at SUNY.
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