SUNY chancellor resigns after caustic comments against Cuomo accuser

Dive Brief:

  • Jim Malatras, chancellor of the State University of New York system, said Thursday he will resign, succumbing to political pressures to step down following revelations he disparaged a woman who accused former Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harrasment.
  • Text messages from 2019 recently released by New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office showed Malatras belittling Lindsey Boylan, an official in Cuomo’s administration who alleged the then-governor sexually harassed her.
  • Malatras recently apologized for his comments about Boylan. SUNY’s governing board backed him, but he still faced widespread calls for his dismissal. His resignation is effective Jan. 14.

Dive Insight:

Malatras’ exit leaves a hole in the leadership of one of the largest public higher education systems in the U.S., which enrolls nearly 400,000 undergraduate and graduate students.

Events leading to his resignation began about two weeks ago, after the attorney general’s office published text messages from 2019 among Malatras and several other Cuomo allies. The group mocked a tweet Boylan posted that year, which said working for the Cuomo administration as a mother was a “toxic and demoralizing experience.”

Malatras, who at the time was shifting from president of a system-affiliated research institute to leading SUNY’s Empire State College, also posted a tweet in response. He insinuated Boylan was attempting to dunk on Cuomo politically, setting up a battle between him and Boylan on Twitter in which she called him tone-deaf.

In the midst of the exchange, Malatras wrote in the group text message thread: “Malatras to Boylan: Go f— yourself.” This occurred more than a year before Boylan publicly accused Cuomo.

In a letter this month, Malatras offered a lengthy apology to Boylan and the SUNY campuses, calling his remarks “inappropriate, disrespectful and wrong.”

His words did not quell calls for his resignation. Merryl Tisch, chair of the SUNY board of trustees, also reportedly called state policymakers ask that they not demand that Malatras leave. 

The trustees backed Malatras, in a statement pointing to his work minimizing the pandemic’s effects on SUNY campuses and praising his efforts to make the institutions more accessible. The union representing SUNY faculty and professional staff also defended him.

However, support was still mixed within SUNY’s faculty ranks, with professors split on whether Malatras should remain. The faculty senate in a letter said it doubted Malatras’ ability to mend trust with key constituencies. It also criticized trustees’ response to the scandal, saying they glossed over issues like the role the chancellor played in the Cuomo administration’s culture and Malatras’ ability to lead going forward.

The governor appoints 15 of the 18 SUNY trustees. None of the current slate were nominated by Cuomo’s replacement, Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat. Hochul said recently she plans to overhaul SUNY and will release more details in January.

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