Cuomo aide Jim Malatras appointed to serve as SUNY chancellor

(Kevin P. Coughlin / Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

Close Cuomo aide and President of SUNY Empire State College Jim Malatras was appointed chancellor of the state university system on Friday. 

Normally, the Cuomo-appointed The State University of New York Trustees would conduct a nation-wide search for the post but decided to forgo the “costly and lengthy” process and vote to appoint Malatras as the 64-campus system’s 14th chancellor. With over 460,000 students, SUNY is one of the largest public university systems in the country. 

Starting Aug. 31, Malatras will take over for former chancellor Kristina Johnson, who left the position in June to head The Ohio State University. Malatras played a key role in Cuomo’s coronavirus task force, advised the governor on school closures and reopenings while serving as chair of New York’s Reimagine Education Advisory Council. 

The appointment is considered controversial by some faculty and elected officials who view the move as a political appointment given Malatras’ long-time relationship with the governor. But members of the Cuomo-appointed board praised Malatras as being well-positioned to take on a set of unprecedented issues facing campuses during the pandemic. 

“Higher education is facing a critical moment in our history amplified by a pandemic that has nearly paralyzed our nation, and now, more than ever, we need a visionary leader and one with deep financial and operational expertise to face our challenges head-on and that is exactly what we have with Dr. Malatras,” said SUNY Chairman Dr. Merryl H. Tisch and SUNY Vice Chairman Cesar Perales.

“With his proven experience, deep connection with our campuses as a SUNY graduate and a strong relationship with Governor Cuomo and the Legislature, Dr. Malatras is ready and well-positioned to tackle a wide range of issues impacting our campuses now, while implementing a vision of affordability, accessibility for all, and expanding SUNY’s prominence as a world-renowned institution.

“As our country grapples with widespread racial unrest and a global health crisis, we need leaders who are able to take charge in a crisis, and who have the skill to turn ideas into action right now,” said Chairman Emeritus H. Carl McCall. 

“I believe in the power of public education to unlock the doors of opportunity and will work tirelessly to make it accessible to all who seek it,” said Malatras in a statement. “Job one is our students who drive and inspire everything we do.”