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Head of NY university system resigns amid Cuomo fallout

December 9, 2021 Michael Hill, Associated Press
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The leader of New York’s state university system, Chancellor James Malatras, said Thursday he will resign amid criticism for sending text messages mocking a woman who later accused former Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment.

Calls for Malatras’ resignation or removal began after state Attorney General Letitia James late last month made public transcripts and evidence from a probe of sexual harassment allegations that forced Cuomo from office. 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.

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

The State University of New York Board of Trustees had said last week they supported Malatras, a former top aide to Cuomo, citing his stewardship of the 64-campus system during the ongoing pandemic and his contrition. But some state lawmakers and organizations, such as the SUNY Student Assembly, said it was time for Malatras to go.

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“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 board, Merryl Tisch.

His resignation is effective Jan. 14.

The resignation announcement came a day after Tisch talked to Gov. Kathy Hochul about the direction of the sprawling system, according to the governor. Hochul told reporters at a briefing that the Wednesday night conversation “was focused on the future of the SUNY system and how we can ensure that we have the focus that we need, the undistracted attention on making this the world-class university system that it should be.”

At the time of the texts, 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.”

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

Cuomo has denied harassing anyone.

Criticism of Malatras intensified after the Times Union of Albany reported this week that when he led the Rockefeller Institute of Government in 2017, he called a female employee “a misery” and “goddamn impossible.” In a statement to the newspaper, Malatras said he should have been “more measured” in his exchange with the employee. He said the previous SUNY Chancellor’s human resources department “agreed with her ultimate termination and rejected any issues raised by the employee on how I handled the matter.”

Malatras was appointed SUNY chancellor in August 2020 after holding a number of posts in the state Legislature, the Cuomo administration and the state university system. A SUNY release at the time said he would receive a salary of $450,000 and a $60,000 housing allowance.

Critics have said the board should have conducted a national search for a chancellor, as they had done previously, before tapping Malatras.

“I think that with the resignation, it’s an opportunity to hit the reset button and do the appropriate broad search that will give us a true academic leader with whom the Legislature can work,” said Assembly Committee on Higher Education chair Deborah Glick.

The New York City Democrat, who had called this week for Malatras’ departure, said a broad search would send a signal that SUNY “takes seriously the issues of harassment and bias.”

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