SUNY Board Backs Chancellor

Faculty union also stands with Jim Malatras amid calls for him to resign.

December 6, 2021
Jim Malatras, SUNY chancellor
(Pacific Press/Contributor/Getty Images)

The board of the State University of New York issued a statement Friday night strongly backing Jim Malatras, chancellor of the system, to remain in office.

“Dr. Jim Malatras has been an outstanding leader of SUNY through one of the most trying times in our history and has the support of the SUNY Board of Trustees,” the board said. “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.”

Specifically, the board cited his work during the COVID-19 epidemic to keep SUNY open.

The mistake referenced was before he was SUNY chancellor. Old text messages were released this week that showed Malatras mocking an aide to former New York governor Andrew Cuomo. The test messages have led to numerous calls for him to resign.

Lindsey Boylan—a former Cuomo aide who later became the first of several women to accuse the governor of sexual misconduct—first spoke publicly about a toxic workplace environment in the governor’s office in May 2019. Malatras and other current and former Cuomo staffers mocked Boylan’s tweets in a group text. At the time, Malatras was transitioning from his position as president of SUNY’s Rockefeller Institute to president of Empire State College.

“I thought we outlawed bath salts?” Rich Azzopardi, who worked for Cuomo at the time, wrote to the group. Malatras liked the message and wrote back, “Let’s release some of her cray emails!” Malatras also texted the group, “Malatras to Boylan: Go f— yourself.”

The SUNY board consists of 15 appointees of the governor and three ex officio members. All of the current appointees were appointed by Cuomo, not the current governor, Kathy Hochul.

The board also released a formal apology from Malatras.

“Earlier this week private text messages of mine from 2019 were made public in which I made disparaging and disrespectful remarks about a former colleague I served with in government prior to my time at SUNY. While my remarks were made more than a year before this colleague spoke out about the harassment she had been subjected to by the former governor and were unrelated to those issues—that is not an excuse—my words were inappropriate, disrespectful and wrong. I not only owe Ms. Boylan an apology for my conduct, I owe an apology to the broader SUNY community for failing to live up to the standard that leadership of this institution entails and demands.”

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In addition, the board released a statement from Frederick E. Kowal, president of United University Professions, the faculty union at SUNY backing Malatras. The statement said, “We welcome the chancellor’s apology. It was necessary and appropriate.”

Kowal added, “United University Professions (UUP) has had a constructive relationship with Chancellor Malatras as we faced unprecedented times that challenged the health, safety and viability of the SUNY community. Chancellor Malatras and I were able to quickly forge an agreement that mandated testing for all UUP members which served to help curtail the spread of COVID in our communities. Chancellor Malatras has also been a tireless advocate on behalf of UUP members who have been on the front lines of SUNY hospitals and campuses across the system.”

But also Friday there were more calls for Malatras to resign.

The Student Assembly of the State University of New York said, “His comments about a female co-worker, including the use of language such as, ‘go f*ck yourself,’ show a level of hostility and lack of professionalism that is unbecoming and should be disqualifying for the position of chancellor.”

The Student Assembly added, “As the person charged with overseeing the largest public higher education institution in the country, the chancellor should be held to the highest standards of integrity. In response to claims of a toxic work environment the chancellor exacerbated and contributed to it by making other vulgar comments. It is imperative, now more than ever, that we support women and mothers (demographics that make up a significant portion of our system-wide student body) when they have concerns, and the chancellor has demonstrated an inability to do so.”

The Faculty Council of Community Colleges said, “This behavior is unbecoming of a chancellor of the State University of New York. As such, and in order to stave off further embarrassment and damage to the reputation of the State University of New York, the Faculty Council of Community Colleges calls on the SUNY Board of Trustees to request the immediate resignation of Chancellor Malatras.”

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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