Steve Bittenbender | The Center Square contributor/Dec 7, 2021
Special to The Roosevelt Island Daily News
(The Center Square) – New York Gov. Kathy Hochul faced criticism Tuesday, one day after refusing to call for the resignation of former Cuomo Administration staffer Jim Malatras as the chancellor for the State University of New York system.
Malatras was director of state operations under Gov. Andrew Cuomo until 2017. He became president of Empire State College in July 2019. In the early stages of the COVID-19 emergency, Cuomo picked Malatras to lead an advisory council on education issues tied to the pandemic.
He was appointed to the top spot at SUNY in August 2020.
Last week, evidence made public by Attorney General Letitia James’ office from the independent investigation that led to Cuomo’s resignation showed Malatras, while in his SUNY role, wrote demeaning text messages to administration officials about Lindsey Boylan, a Cuomo accuser.
In one message to Cuomo staffers, Malatras said that some of Boylan’s “cray,” a slang term for crazy, emails should be released.
When Hochul succeeded Cuomo, she pledged to clean up the toxic atmosphere in the governor’s office. During a press conference Monday, the governor said there is no tolerance in her office for sexual harassment. However, she pointed out Malatras was appointed to his position by SUNY trustees.
“So, it’s not part of my administration,” she said. “However, I understand that he’s working with individuals to earn their trust, and I encourage him to do so.”
While not calling on Malatras to go, Hochul told reporters Monday she plans to make reforming SUNY a key part of her “State of the State” speech she’ll give next month.
That was not good enough for Boylan, who tweeted directly at Hochul on Tuesday morning about the governor’s “shameful” response.
Boylan, who also worked in the Cuomo administration, said Hochul and her staff know about Malatras’ behavior.
“You know better,” she said. “You’re just not doing better.”
In the days after the attorney general released additional information, calls came out from students, SUNY staff and others for Malatras to step down.
Malatras wrote a public letter apologizing for his behavior to Boylan and the SUNY community for not living up to leadership standards.
On Friday, the SUNY Board of Trustees issued a statement of support for Malatras. The four-paragraph statement said he’s taken responsibility for his actions and has performed well while leading the state’s university system through the pandemic.
“We have challenging days ahead and believe Jim Malatras, as Chancellor of the State University of New York, remains the right leader to help us meet that challenge,” the trustees’ statement read.
The trustees’ vote of confidence, though, did not assuage some lawmakers, who have since called on Malatras to either step down or be removed.
On Tuesday, state Sen. John Liu, D-Queens, tweeted a statement recalling the SUNY Faculty Senate opposing Malatras’ appointment as chancellor, given his sparse background in academic leadership.
“Now we know he also fomented a hostile work environment,” he tweeted about Malatras. “The mounting evidence is clear: He must go!”