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Critics calling for SUNY Chancellor Malatras to resign, but he says he's staying

Jim Malatras, chancellor of New York's public college

Jim Malatras, chancellor of New York's public college system, is facing calls to resign after the release of text messages showing he mocked one of the women who accused former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of sexual harassment. Credit: AP/Mike Groll

Critics are calling for the ouster of SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras over derogatory emails he sent about an ex-colleague who later accused then-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of sexual harassment.

Malatras has apologized for the emails about Lindsey Boylan, and has no plans to resign. The emails, which he sent in 2019 before becoming chancellor, became public last week as part of state Attorney General Letitia James' investigation into allegations that Cuomo sexually harassed multiple women.

The women included Boylan, who complained in a tweet that she found being a mother while also working as a Cuomo economic adviser to be a "toxic and demoralizing experience."

Malatras, who had been a Cuomo aide and adviser, responded with a tweet defending the work environment. In emails to other Cuomo allies, he also used profanity in reference to Boylan and wrote "Let's release some of her cray [crazy] emails."

Boylan later resigned and went public with her accusations that Cuomo kissed her on the lips after a meeting in his office and suggested they "play strip poker" during an airplane trip. Cuomo has denied this and all other allegations.

The SUNY board of trustees is supporting Malatras, even as the chair of a legislative committee on higher education has called for a national search for a "true academic leader."

Malatras' emails were included in a broader release of material gathered in James' investigation of Cuomo, who resigned in August. Cuomo attacked the investigation and said the report was politically motivated. He has denied the accusations.

James' report also included emails from the governor's brother, then-CNN talk-show host Chris Cuomo, that showed his involvement in the attempt to smear Andrew Cuomo's accusers. Chris Cuomo was fired by CNN on Saturday.

In the letter to his colleagues and the SUNY community, Malatras apologized to Boylan for his "disparaging and disrespectful remarks," which he said were "inappropriate, disrespectful and wrong." He went on to say, "I know in this instance I fell short, but I am committed to doing the work to regain your trust and continuing on the path of ensuring a brighter future for SUNY."

The SUNY board of trustees issued a statement supporting him: "He's acknowledged he made a mistake, taken full responsibility for it, and apologized appropriately. He is fully focused on the critical work of keeping our facilities open and our students and faculty safe through the ongoing pandemic."

On Monday, the chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, Deborah Glick, added her voice to the SUNY Student Assembly’s executive committee, the Faculty Council of Community Colleges and student organizations of College Democrats and College Republicans calling for his resignation or firing.

And in a tweet, Boylan wrote, "It’s disturbing to see @SUNY board chair Merryl Tisch suggest that Malatras 'gave a full-throated apology.' Jim has not apologized to me & he continues to lie about his actions. He retaliated against me when I spoke up about a toxic environment."

The SUNY Student Assembly executive committee statement said Malatras’ emails showed "a level of hostility and lack of professionalism that is unbecoming and should be disqualifying for the position of Chancellor." However, nine students identifying as student leaders, including two at SUNY Old Westbury, objected to the executive committee’s position, and expressed support for his record as chancellor.

Malatras has held various positions in state government. He has said he volunteered his services helping edit Cuomo's book on leadership, which is now the subject of an investigation into the use of state resources and staff to research and write it in the midst of the state's COVID-19 pandemic response.

Some, including Glick, said they were disappointed at Malatras' appointment by Cuomo in 2020 without the kind of national search for an educational leader that had installed his predecessor, Kristina Johnson, and called for a new search.

However, Malatras has won the support of two unions whose members work as nurses, faculty and professional staff in the SUNY system and had to negotiate over safety concerns during the pandemic.

Wayne Spence wrote in a letter to trustees that during his tenure as president of the New York State Public Employees Federation, he’d "never experienced a more collaborative and responsive relationship as I have [with] Malatras" and said he "has our full faith and confidence."

Frederick E. Kowal, president of the United University Professions/AFT Local 2190, also wrote in Malatras’ support, noting, "In light of the recent news, we welcome the Chancellor’s apology. It was necessary and appropriate."

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