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Calls grow for SUNY chancellor to exit over involvement in Cuomo sexual harassment scandal

 State University of New York Chancellor Jim Malatras.
Pat Bradley
State University of New York Chancellor Jim Malatras.

State University of New York Chancellor Jim Malatras is facing new calls for his resignation after documents released by Attorney General Tish James show he was helping to plan retaliation against a woman who is a survivor of sexual harassment from former Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

James in recent days has released more documents from her August report, which found that Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women. Cuomo resigned a few weeks after the report was released.

The transcripts show Malatras suggesting that the governor’s office release the private emails of Lindsey Boylan to try to discredit and embarrass her. Boylan accused Cuomo of sexually harassing her, including inappropriately kissing her on the lips and suggesting that the two play strip poker, and the attorney general found those claims credible.

Malatras, in an email to another Cuomo aide, used an expletive to describe his attitude toward Boylan.

Malatras made the latter comments before Boylan went public with her sexual harassment allegations and during a time when she said she was subjected to a toxic work environment at the governor’s office.

Debra Glick, chair of the Assembly's Higher Education committee, on Monday called Malatras' actions “disturbing” and said he should resign or be removed by the SUNY Board of Trustees. The board appointed Malatras, a former top Cuomo aide, instead of conducting a nationwide search.

Glick said Malatras' “involvement in defaming those who accused the former governor of sexual harassment is in direct opposition to SUNY’s commitment to a harassment-free environment for students and employees."

The SUNY Student Association and the Faculty Council of SUNY’s Community Colleges have previously called on Malatras to leave. They were joined Monday by the Member Action Council, which said “the Chancellor’s participation in the toxic, bullying atmosphere of Governor Cuomo’s administration betrays those women who have stepped forward to speak truth to power."

Mike Lisi, a spokesman for United University Professions, disavowed the Member Action Council, saying in a statement that “The Member Action Council in no way represents UUP. It is its own organization, made up of UUP members who do not speak for the union. The Member Action Council is not an arm or extension of UUP in any way.”

Last Friday, UUP President Fred Kowal issued a letter of support for Malatras.

Malatras is one of the few close associates of the former governor who has not resigned or been fired by Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Hochul, at an unrelated news conference late Monday, was noncommittal about whether Malatras should exit.

“I understand that he’s working with individuals to earn their trust,” Hochul said. “And I encourage him to do so."

Hochul promised to purge state government of any former Cuomo aide who was implicated in the attorney general's report as contributing to a culture of harassment and bullying. But she said it’s the SUNY Board of Trustees, not the governor, who have the power to fire the chancellor.

Some of those trustees, who were appointed by Cuomo, say Malatras should remain because he helped the state university system successfully navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Continuity at this time is important, so I understand their rationale for wanting to not ask him to take steps,” Hochul said. “However, we have to make sure that there is a culture where this behavior is not acceptable, and those conversations continue.”

Malatras, speaking to reporters, including New York Public Television’s "New York Now" a few days ago, said he regrets using the language that he did. But he admitted that he has had “strong disagreements” with work colleagues in the past.

“I’m not proud of the language that I used,” Malatras said. “But I’m proud of my collaborative work in government. I’ve been in government a long time. I’m proud of my work at SUNY … and that’s going to be my focus.”

The governor hinted, though, that she may take steps in January to make major changes to SUNY’s leadership, saying that her State of the State message will recommend an overhaul of the university system.

Corrected: December 7, 2021 at 1:35 PM EST
An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the Member Action Council as an organizing arm of United University Professions.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.