Glick, Higher Education Committee Chair, says SUNY Chancellor must step down
The State University of New York Board of Trustees is standing by Chancellor Jim Malatras following the publication of text messages from 2019 when the longtime aide to former Governor Andrew Cuomo used profanity to smear a woman who would go on to accuse the former governor of sexual harassment. As part of a probe that led to Cuomo’s resignation, State Attorney General Tish James released materials that show Malatras sent a series of charged messages as Cuomo’s inner circle worked to counter wrongdoing claims leveled by Lindsey Boylan.
Malatras issued an apology Friday evening amid calls to resign from student government groups and others. The SUNY Chancellor, who has served in the role since August 2020, also got a vote of confidence from the SUNY Board of Trustees, the Public Employees Federation and United University Professions. One person who disagrees is Democratic State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick of Manhattan, who chairs the Committee on Higher Education. She spoke with WAMC Monday.
Why are you calling for Malatras to resign?
I believe that his role in working with the Cuomo administration insiders to undermine the accusations and to, in some instances, defame accusers sends a terrible signal across the state university. And I believe that it is important for students and their families to feel totally confident that anyone attending a SUNY will be in an environment that is free of sexual harassment and free of bias of any kind. And I think that these revelations, regardless of an apology, demonstrate that that confidence would be shaken.
For his part, Chancellor Malatras says these messages were from 2019. He apologized for his conduct but said, you know, in government work, there's a lot of fierce disagreement. And that's what happened here between Boylan and himself. So you don't buy that argument?
Well, he also said it was a long time ago. In my perspective, two years is not a long time. And I don't think that is the sum total of his role in working with others within the administration and the close Cuomo associates to undermine the credibility of various accusers.
Chancellor Malatras was hired without a national search. Is that part of your statement calling on him to resign, that you don't think necessarily he was the best candidate for the job when appointed?
Well, I think that we had an excellent chancellor who had been selected through a national search. The appointment of Chancellor Malatras was very decidedly about the governor picking a close associate, and trying to further extend his control over the State University. And while I have no complaints about Dr. Malatras’ ability to be a strong operational manager, I have always expressed my reservations about his ability to be a strong academic leader.
Separate from how he was hired and appointed by the board, has he been a good chancellor in the time that he's been there?
Well, it's a highly unusual circumstance the last year and as I say, he is a strong operational manager and he did do a very good job dealing with COVID on the campuses. But I think that we are moving into a, hopefully, a new chapter. And I believe that the state university, which is the largest public university system in the country, needs a strong academic leader who has a strong national profile.
Just to explain for people who might not have followed this closely, the Board of Trustees is, by and large, made up of people appointed to that board by the governor. So in this case, people who were appointed by Governor Cuomo. It would presumably take a very long time for enough turnover to happen on the board that the board would go against the vote of confidence it gave to him last week. So how would you like to see this play out? Is it even possible for him to be removed?
Well, I think they'll have to do a lot of soul searching as to…I think they have to recognize that there was not a national search, that that is the normal procedure, the normal standard, and that that was obviated by extraordinary circumstances. And now, as we move forward, they should take their responsibility to ensure that the university has a strong academic leader, and be one that has no association with the attempts to undermine and draw or question the credibility of the accusers who came forward related to Governor Cuomo.
Now, you have an important role to play in all this because you're the Chair of the Higher Education Committee. If the SUNY board doesn't act beyond giving the chancellor the vote of confidence it did last week, and doesn't listen to what you're saying, and Chancellor Malatras doesn't resign, what will you do?
Well, you know, we'll cross that bridge. I have a belief that there are other issues related to the conduct, not only related to sexual harassment, but you know, what role did the chancellor play in preparing and editing the governor's book? And did that work undermine his focus on his job as SUNY Chancellor? And I think that if they were honest, they would admit that they should have done a national search, which may have been complicated in a COVID pandemic. And now they have a second opportunity to look at that and say, we are going back to normal order. And the normal order would be a broad search and not a handpicked candidate by a governor who was no longer in office.
Lastly, the governor who is in office, Kathy Hochul, has not called for Chancellor Malatras to resign, although when she took office in August, she did say they'd be looking at personnel in all departments and agencies and so on. Would you like to see the governor call on Chancellor Malatras to go?
Well, I'm not here to advise the governor in this endeavor. Obviously, the chancellor reports to the SUNY board. And that is why I've asked the SUNY board to consider their position and to either have the chancellor withdraw, or for them to remove him. And I still hope that they will think about the future of SUNY and not the future of just the chancellor.
Separate from advising the governor, though, are you surprised that she has not called for his resignation?
No, I think that, you know, the governor has a lot on her plate. And I think that unlike the former governor, who mixed into everything, she's showing deference and respect to the SUNY Board of Trustees, and I would hope that they would, as I said, put the future of SUNY first and foremost.