SUNY chancellor resigns from fallout of scandal tied to ex-Gov. Cuomo

Jim Malatras does not want to be a 'distraction' and succumbs to pressure after it is revealed that he mocked a sexual assault accuser tied to the former governor.
By: | December 9, 2021
Photo courtesy of the SUNY Board of Trustees

State University of New York Chancellor Jim Malatras resigned on Thursday amid pressure from a large contingent of legislators, students and faculty members over a series of text messages in which he took part in mocking one of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s sexual assault accusers.

Malatras, then an aide as director of state operations in 2019, berated economic development leader Lindsay Boylan, one of the women who came forward earlier this year with accusations that led to Cuomo’s downfall. The SUNY chancellor, recognizing the gravity of his involvement in those messages and the growing calls for him to step down, announced he will be exiting effective Jan. 14 to avoid being a “distraction.”

“Leadership in public service is a privilege and with it comes immense responsibility for upholding the values of professionalism, decency, and respect. I take that responsibility very seriously and in recent days it has been clear I have fallen short,” he wrote in a letter to the SUNY community.

Malatras was hired as chancellor of the 64-university state system in August of 2020, replacing now Ohio State president Kristina Johnson, and led many of the initiatives that helped SUNY get through the pandemic. But those efforts could not mask the scandalous series of messages, which the New York Times reported were uncovered as part of an examination into Cuomo’s behavior by state attorney general Letitia James.

“I not only owe Ms. Boylan an apology for my conduct; I owe an apology to the broader SUNY community for failing to live up to the standard that leadership of this institution entails and demands,” Malatras wrote. “My greatest hope is to foster an inclusive community at SUNY where every faculty and staff member and student can feel safe and heard. I hope that my record here has made that commitment clear.”

The Board of Trustees noted their support for Malatras in a letter on Dec. 3, calling him an “outstanding leader through one of the most trying times in our history. He’s acknowledged he made a mistake, taken full responsibility for it, and apologized appropriately.” It talked about his efforts on testing and vaccinations on campuses and breaking down barriers for low-income students.

Wayne Spence, President of the New York State Public Employees Federation, also endorsed the efforts of Malatras around the pandemic late last week. “During the darkest days of the pandemic, when nurses were overworked, underpaid, and burned out, Chancellor Malatras never stopped working with us to find ways to show appreciation, gratitude and – most importantly – directly support workers by helping to provide fair wages and retention incentives,” he said “His commitment to SUNY hospitals and all 64 SUNY campuses, many which educate the nurses and other staff in our ranks, has been unwavering. Chancellor Malatras has our full faith and confidence. We look forward to continuing our partnership with him to the benefit of all New Yorkers for years to come.”

University Professions President Fred Kowal also gave Malatras his backing to the Board last week, but gave this statement following the resignation:

“Today’s announcement by Chancellor Malatras will allow us to move forward. Despite the turmoil of the last couple of weeks, UUP’s focus remains on delivering resources and support for our members, our students and our patients across New York. We thank Chancellor Malatras for his work over the last year and a half, especially leading SUNY’s COVID response. We hope the Board of Trustees will maintain a collaborative partnership and join us in advocating for the SUNY system as we move into crucial legislative sessions.

But he added, “The time is now for the SUNY Board of Trustees to develop a systemwide, enforceable workplace civility policy to better ensure that our members can work in environments from toxic and bullying behavior.”

It is unclear when SUNY might get its next leader, but the choice of Malatras as 14th chancellor raised eyebrows because a national search was not conducted and because he spent just a year and a half as president of Empire State College.

“I have spent the past 20 years of my life working in public service,” Malatras wrote. “I could not be prouder of the work we have done together over these past two incredibly difficult years here at SUNY. 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. 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.”