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The head of New York's university system resigns amid Cuomo fallout

SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras at Stony Brook University on Sept. 24, 2020.
J.D. Allen

The leader of New York's state university system, Chancellor James Malatras, said Thursday he will resign amid harsh criticism for his actions while a top aide to former Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“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 letter to the chair of the State University of New York Board of Trustees.

His resignation is effective Jan. 14.

Malatras came under fire after state Attorney General Letitia James made public transcripts and evidence from a probe of sexual harassment allegations that forced Cuomo from office. Cuomo has denied harassing anyone.

A text exchange from 2019 involving Malatras and other Cuomo allies showed them privately mocking Lindsey Boylan, a former economic development official who would later become the first woman to publicly accuse Cuomo.

At the time, Boylan had yet to go public with her sexual harassment allegations against the governor. But after leaving the administration, she tweeted that working in politics had been “a toxic and demoralizing experience.”

“Let’s release some of her cray emails,” Malatras texted, using slang for crazy.

Boylan had departed the administration after some of her subordinates complained about her own workplace behavior, saying they felt bullied.

Also, the Times Union of Albany reported this week that when Malatras led the SUNY Rockefeller Institute, he called a female employee “a misery” and “goddamn impossible.”

The state university board had said last week they supported Malatras. But state lawmakers and others had called for his resignation.

United University Professions President Fred Kowal said he's greatly relieved that Malatras made the decision to leave. The union had not called on the chancellor to step down. Kowal said they were concerned about a break in continuity just as budget negotiations were to begin, and wanted to make sure the funding for the campuses was not affected. But Kowal said he had become increasingly uneasy over the accounts of Malatras' bad behavior towards others, and he said some of his members were angry, as well.

"As the last few days transpired, what I saw as a continuous drumbeat of stories coming out, and they were becoming more and more disturbing," Kowal said. "I welcome the end of this drama."

Kowal said he hopes that the SUNY Board will appoint an interim chancellor who can hit the ground running. But the union urges SUNY to conduct a nationwide search to attract a high quality candidate for the chancellor's job.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul said she had an “important” phone conversation with SUNY Board Chair Tisch Wednesday evening, before Malatras announced that he was leaving. But she would not disclose the details.

“ I’m more inclined to work behind the scenes and focus on results,” Hochul said.

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Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.
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