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More join calls for SUNY chancellor to step down

 SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras at a COVID-19 briefing in 2020.
Mike Groll
Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo
SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras at a COVID-19 briefing in 2020.

State University of New York Chancellor Jim Malatras remained in his job Wednesday despite new calls for him to resign over audio released by the Albany Times Union, where he can be heard shouting and using foul language as he berates a state university employee.

An audio recording published by the paper that was made by a former employee of SUNY’s Rockefeller Institute of Government, which Malatras once headed, has led to even more calls for the chancellor to step down.

The 55-minute recording was made in 2017 by the employee at the instruction of her union, United University Professions, to document her interactions with Malatras. In it, he refers to the employee as “lady” until she asks him to call her by her name. He uses expletives as he tells her that she has a bad attitude and that he finds her “impossible” to work with.

“You’re goddamn impossible all the time,” Malatras shouts.

The woman, according to the paper, had worked for the Institute for 22 years overseeing finances and grant requests. Malatras later tells her that she is “a misery.”

After the audio was published, new groups called for Malatras to leave, including the University Faculty Senate, which is calling for an independent investigation into the chancellor’s leadership.

The government reform group Common Cause also said Malatras should go. Previously, the Assembly Higher Education Committee Chair Deborah Glick also called for his ouster, saying 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.”

Malatras already faced calls for his exit after he was named in transcripts released by Attorney General Tish James in connection with a report that found former Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women. Cuomo resigned in August.

Malatras is not accused of sexual harassment, but he did use an expletive to describe his feelings about alleged Cuomo victim Lindsay Boylan, a year before she publicly accused the former governor of harassing her and of overseeing a toxic workplace. The attorney general’s report also said Malatras suggested that the governor’s office retaliate against Boylan by publicly releasing what he characterized as her crazy emails.

 State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli
New York NOW
State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli became the first statewide elected official to urge the SUNY Board of Trustees to look into the incidents. He spoke on Albany public radio stationWAMC’s “The Capitol Connection.”

“It really is incumbent upon the board to do their own evaluation, perhaps their own investigation, and, you know, don't just fall back on what they initially did, and really decide what's in the best interest of the SUNY system," DiNapoli said. "So, you know, I think there's still more to come with how that saga plays out.”

The comptroller stopped short, though, of calling on the chancellor to leave.

Malatras, a Cuomo ally, was chosen for his job by the SUNY Board of Trustees, which is dominated by appointees of the former governor. DiNapoli said that has become a potential conflict.

“With many of the boards that we have across the state is that they're largely populated by gubernatorial appointments, and especially when you have a very strong governor as you had an Andrew Cuomo, the independence of those boards is compromised,” DiNapoli said. “And that's a problem.”

Fred Kowal, the president of UUP, said in a statement that while it is “inappropriate” for him to comment on the specifics of individual personnel matters, he said the incident detailed in the Times Union shows the need for improving workplace civility across the SUNY system. Kowal said his union is aware that some of its members work in toxic workplaces, and he is calling on SUNY to create a policy to change that.

In a statement, Malatras said the incident with the former Rockefeller Institute employee was “a difficult personnel matter,” and he said he “should have been more measured in his part of the conversation."

But Malatras said the previous chancellor’s human resources department backed him over the employee, ultimately deciding that his complaints about her work performance were valid and that she should be fired. He said the personnel office also rejected the woman’s complaints that he acted inappropriately in the matter.

Copyright 2021 WXXI News. To see more, visit WXXI News.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.