Jim Malatras, chancellor of the State University of New York system, submitted his resignation Thursday following a week of controversy over his allegedly “toxic management style” and old text messages that showed Malatras mocking a former colleague.
“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 wrote in his resignation letter to the SUNY Board of Trustees. “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 board accepted Malatras’s resignation, effective Jan. 14, on Thursday.
“We want to thank Dr. Jim Malatras for his extraordinary service to the entire SUNY system. 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,” the board wrote in a statement. “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.”
Malatras’s short tenure at the 64-institution state system was punctuated by controversy. The Board of Trustees selected Malatras in August 2020 without a national search process, prompting a vote of no confidence in the board from system faculty members. Critics of the appointment complained that Malatras had little higher education experience and that his close relationship with then New York governor Andrew Cuomo would cede too much influence to the administration.
A former aide to Cuomo, Malatras repeatedly landed in hot water over his relationship to the now disgraced politician. In July, Malatras defended a New York State Department of Health report that effectively absolved the Cuomo administration from responsibility for the rise in COVID-19 deaths in New York nursing homes. The chancellor was also questioned by investigators in September about how many working hours he spent editing and fact-checking Cuomo’s personal memoir.
Two weeks ago, New York attorney general Letitia James released old text messages that showed Malatras mocking Lindsey Boylan, a former aide to Cuomo, after she tweeted about a toxic work environment in the governor’s office several years ago. At the time, Malatras was transitioning from president of SUNY’s Rockefeller Institute to president of Empire State College.
“Let’s release some of her cray emails!” Malatras texted to a group of current and former Cuomo staffers after a colleague suggested Boylan was using drugs. Later—after Boylan and Malatras tweeted in reference to each other—Malatras texted the group, “Malatras to Boylan: Go f— yourself.”
In the days after the texts were made public, dozens of SUNY students, employees and other New York politicians and residents called for Malatras to step down or for the Board of Trustees to remove him. The board and the United University Professions (UUP), SUNY’s statewide faculty union, backed the chancellor. Malatras apologized for what he said in the texts.
The Albany Times Union, which has reported closely on the chancellor, published a story Tuesday revealing that Malatras berated and insulted an employee while he was president of the Rockefeller Institute. In a statement to the Times Union, Malatras said he should have been “more measured” in his exchange with the employee. A system human resources investigation into the incident at the time determined that claims of regular verbal harassment by Malatras were “unfounded,” but a handful of anonymous employees spoke to the Times Union about Malatras’s allegedly “toxic management style.”
UUP, which represents more than 37,000 SUNY employees, said in a statement Thursday that Malatras’s resignation “will allow us to move forward.”
“Despite the turmoil of the last couple of weeks, UUP’s focus remains on delivering resources and support for our members, our students, and our patients across New York. We thank Chancellor Malatras for his work over the last year and a half, especially leading SUNY’s COVID response,” the union statement read. “We hope the Board of Trustees will maintain a collaborative partnership and join us in advocating for the SUNY system as we move into a crucial legislative session.”
The union also called on the Board of Trustees to conduct a national search for Malatras’s replacement and to prioritize diverse candidates for the role.
A SUNY spokesperson did not respond to questions about who will serve as interim chancellor and whether the board will conduct a national search for Malatras’s replacement.
The Member Action Coalition, a faction of the UUP that did call for Malatras to step down, also released a statement Thursday.
“We welcome the news that Chancellor Malatras has tendered his resignation to the Board of Trustees. As a central participant in former Governor Cuomo’s toxic and abusive working environment, he was never an appropriate candidate as Chancellor of SUNY,” the statement read. “That he was given the job without benefit of a national search, and without significant experience in higher education, demonstrates how indebted the Board of Trustees has been to the internal politics of the Governor’s office, and how little they are concerned with those of us who work, learn, and teach in the system. We are proud to continue to stand in solidarity with the students, workers, parents, patients, faculty, professionals and staff at SUNY who called for his resignation, and in solidarity with those women who stepped forward to share their experience of abuse under his watch.”