NEW YORK — Gov. Kathy Hochul called State University of New York Board of Trustees Chairwoman Merryl H. Tisch on Wednesday night pressing for SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras’ removal from office amid mounting calls for his resignation after text messages released last week showed he mocked the first woman to publicly accuse former Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual misconduct.
Malatras, Cuomo’s longtime aide and former state operations director, submitted a letter of resignation to the SUNY Board of Trustees on Thursday morning.
Malatras faced bipartisan calls to resign after text messages released from state Attorney General Letitia James’s Office’s sexual harassment investigation involving Cuomo showed the SUNY public college system leader mocking Lindsey Boylan, who first publicly accused Cuomo of misconduct on Twitter last December.
“I did have a conversation with Merryl Tisch last night,” Gov. Hochul said Thursday afternoon while answering questions from reporters during a COVID-19 briefing in her Manhattan office.
The New York Post first reported Hochul’s conversation with Tisch and the details in the hours leading up to Malatras’ decision to step down.
“It was an important conversation to have, and it was focused on the future of the SUNY system and how we can ensure that we have the focus that we need [and] the undistracted attention on making this the world-class university system that it should be,” she added. “That was the context of that conversation. I won’t say more about the conversation, but it was an important one.”
Malatras’ resignation takes effect Jan. 14.
More than 30 Democratic assemblymembers sent a letter Wednesday to Tisch and the other 17 SUNY trustees demanding Malatras be terminated and requested the board appoint an interim chancellor and conduct a national search for a permanent replacement.
Evidence released by the AG’s office led to CNN firing Chris Cuomo, the former governor’s brother, after it showed he had a more active role in helping Andrew Cuomo respond to allegations. Boylan, who served as Cuomo’s deputy secretary for economic development and a special advisor from March 2015 through October 2018, described working in Cuomo’s office as “beyond toxic” and said he sexually harassed her repeatedly.
“Let’s release some of her cray emails,” Malatras wrote to a group of Cuomo aides, suggesting it would make Boylan look crazy, according to documents released by the attorney general last week.
The documents raised questions about Malatras, who once served as Cuomo’s state operations director and was chosen for the $450,000 SUNY chancellor job in 2020 by the university system’s board — comprised mostly of Cuomo appointees.
When Boylan criticized Malatras on Twitter, he texted the group: “Malatras to Boylan: Go f--- yourself.”
Malatras did not officially apologize or address the controversies surrounding his departure in his resignation letter.
“The recent events surrounding me over the past week have become a distraction over the important work that needs to be accomplished as SUNY emerges from COVID-19,” Malatras said in his resignation letter. “I believe deeply in an individual’s ability to evolve, change and grow, but I also believe deeply in SUNY and would never want to be an impediment to its success.”
The departing chancellor was appointed as SUNY’s 14th chancellor in August 2020 after several years serving as a top aide to Gov. Cuomo.
He was appointed as leader of the state’s 64-campus university system, bypassing the board’s traditional national search, after his assistance to the administration throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
Hochul declined further comment on Malatras’ decision to step down.
“With respect to not publicly calling out for certain things, I think he will understand that the position of the governor is not to stand out and make proclamations and statements,” Hochul said. “I’m more inclined to work behind the scenes and focus on results, and that is what I’m going to continue to do.”
In his resignation letter, Malatras highlighted SUNY’s accomplishments during his brief stint at the system’s helm, noting progress in combating student hunger and expanding educational opportunities for low-income and students of color
“We want to thank Dr. Jim Malatras for his extraordinary service to the entire SUNY system,” the SUNY Board of Trustees said in a statement. “The past two years have been among the most trying in SUNY’s history — and Jim’s leadership and collaboration with our faculty and staff have allowed our institution to continue to thrive and serve our nearly 400,000 students at 64 campuses across our state safely and in person. He has been a champion for our students, for access, for equity, and for deeper public investment in this great institution. The entire board expresses our gratitude for his dedication and leadership.”