Gov. Kathy Hochul on Monday refused to seek the resignation of embattled SUNY Chancellor James Malatras — a confidante of disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo — while calling for an overhaul of the sprawling 64-campus university system.
Hochul offered Malatras — who is under fire for smearing former state worker Lindsey Boylan in nasty texts 18 months before she accused Cuomo of sexual harassment — a life raft, at least for now.
“I understand that Jim Malatras — as all of us understand — has been appointed to the position by the trustees. I understand that he’s working with individuals to earn their trust, and I encourage him to do so,” said Hochul when asked about the SUNY chancellor during a Monday press briefing.
Nearly all the current SUNY trustees are Cuomo appointees.
Hochul, when asked specifically if Malatras should step down, only said, “We need a leader of the SUNY system.
“I’m going to make an overhaul of the SUNY system part of my State of State [address]. We have very bold plans, and I want to see them executed, and I want to see them continue,” she said.
“Speaking to my administration, speaking to a number of trustees, continuity at this time is important,” she added.
SUNY’s community colleges have particularly suffered from plummeting enrollment, which accelerated during the COVID-19 outbreak.
But while the governor said she understood the rationale of SUNY trustees to retain Malatras, she said her decision to not call for his ouster doesn’t excuse his unacceptable trashing of Boylan. The Malatras texts were unearthed by state Attorney General Letitia James last week as part of a massive document dump in her office’s sexual-harassment probe of Andrew Cuomo.
The newly released documents also proved damning to Chris Cuomo, who was accused of secretly aiding the defense of his brother, and included the texts by Malatras to gubernatorial aides. CNN fired Chris Cuomo, who was also reportedly forced out of his SiriusXm Radio show.
Andrew Cuomo resigned as governor in August amid a slew of sexual-misconduct complaints substantiated by the AG James’ office investigation, including Boylan’s. He has denied any wrongdoing.
“We have to make sure there is a culture where this behavior is not acceptable and those conversations continue,” Hochul said.
Hochul’s refusal to demand Malatras’s resignation came just hours after the chairwoman of the state Assembly oversight committee on higher education, Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan), called for Malatras to resign or be terminated by the SUNY board.
Malatras wrote in a text to Cuomo aides in 2019, amid workplace issues involving Boylan, “Malatras to Boylan: Go f–k yourself.”
The SUNY chief added in another text, “Let’s release some of her cray emails!”
Malatras also forwarded Cuomo aides a picture of a nuclear explosion with the word “kaboom” while discussing Boylan.
A year later, the Cuomo camp released portions of Boylan’s personnel file to try to undercut her harassment claims.
“It is disturbing to learn that in the midst of managing the COVID crisis, Dr. Malatras is reported to have engaged in conduct meant to undermine serious allegations against former Governor Cuomo,” Glick said.
A bipartisan group of Democratic and Republican politicians previously called for Malatras to resign or be replaced as have student leaders and some professors.
Malatras issued an apology late Friday over the texts, saying, “My words were inappropriate, disrespectful and wrong” — while the SUNY board of trustees put out a statement backing him.
SUNY insiders said it would be wrong to “cancel” Malatras, whom even critics say is a skillful manager who helped SUNY colleges withstand the coronavirus pandemic, though he’s not considered a top academician.
But critics pointed out that Malatras has figured prominently in other Andrew Cuomo controversies — including the SUNY chief’s role in editing both the Cuomo administration’s health-department report that low-balled COVID-19-linked nursing-home deaths and Cuomo’s $5.1 million pandemic “leadership” memoir. Malatras, who served on Cuomo’s COVID-19 Task Force, has denied downplaying nursing-home deaths.