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Calls grow for SUNY Chancellor to exit over involvement in Cuomo scandal

SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras
Jesse King
/
WAMC
SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras

State University of New York Chancellor Jim Malatras is facing new calls to resign after documents released by the Attorney General show him helping plan to retaliate against a woman who accused former Governor Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment.

AG Tish James in recent days has released more documents from her August report, which found that Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women. Cuomo resigned a few weeks later.

The transcripts show Malatras suggesting that the governor’s office release the private emails of Lindsey Boylan to try to discredit and embarrass her. Boylan accused Cuomo of sexually harassing her, including inappropriately kissing her on the lips and suggesting that the two play strip poker. The AG found those claims credible. Malatras, in an email to another aide to the former governor, used an expletive to describe his attitude toward Boylan. Malatras made the latter comments before Boylan went public with her sexual harassment allegations and during a time when she said she was subjected to a toxic work environment at the governor’s office.

The Chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, Deborah Glick, calling the actions of Malatras “disturbing” said Monday Malatras should resign or be removed by the SUNY Board of Trustees. The Board appointed Malatras, a former top Cuomo aide, instead of conducting a nationwide search.

Glick says Malatras “involvement in defaming those who accused the former Governor of sexual harassment “is in direct opposition to SUNY’s commitment to a harassment free environment for students and employees.”

The SUNY Student Association and the Faculty Council of SUNY’s Community Colleges have previously called on Malatras to leave. They were joined Monday by the Member Action Coalition, which contains members of the United University Professions, who say “the Chancellor’s participation in the toxic, bullying atmosphere of Governor Cuomo’s administration betrays those women who have stepped forward to speak truth to power.” UUP issued a letter of support for Malatras Friday evening.

Malatras is one of the few close associates of the former Governor who has not resigned or been fired by Governor Kathy Hochul.

Hochul, at an unrelated news conference late Monday, was non-committal about whether Malatras should exit.

“I understand that he’s working with individuals to earn their trust,” Hochul said. “And I encourage him to do so.”

Hochul promised to purge state government of any former Cuomo aide who was implicated in the AG’s report as contributing to a culture of harassment and bullying. But she says it’s the SUNY Board of Trustees, not the governor, who have the power to fire the chancellor. Some of those trustees, who were appointed by former governor Cuomo, say Malatras should remain, because he helped the state university system successfully navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Continuity at this time is important, so I understand their rationale for wanting to not ask him to take steps,” Hochul said. “However, we have to make sure that there is a culture where this behavior is not acceptable, and those conversations continue.”

Malatras, speaking to reporters including New York Now last week, said he regrets using the language that he did, but he admits he has had “strong disagreements” with work colleagues in the past.

“I’m not proud of the language that I used,” Malatras said. “But I’m proud of my collaborative work in government. I’ve been in government a long time. I’m proud of my work at SUNY. We got a lot of work to do and that’s going to be my focus.”

The governor hinted though that she may take steps in January to make major changes to SUNY’s leadership, saying that her State of the State message will recommend an overhaul of the university system.