Jim Malatras, president of Empire State College and former New York Director of State Operations, was appointed the fourteenth chancellor of the State University of New York (SUNY) public higher education system by the SUNY Board of Trustees on Aug. 21.
According to the SUNY press release, Malatras was chosen for his financial and operational expertise, as well as his connection to the New York State government, where he has held multiple positions including executive director of the New York Education Reform Commission.
Malatras is an alumnus of SUNY Albany, and was the former Chief of Staff and Vice Chancellor for policy for SUNY central administration. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he was often seen at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s side during his briefings. The SUNY Board of Trustees who appoint the chancellor has 18 members, 15 of which are appointed by the governor.
“It is an incredible honor to lead the largest comprehensive system of public higher education as the next chancellor of the State University of New York,” Malatras said in the SUNY press release. “I am a proud product of the SUNY system, having earned my undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees from SUNY institutions. 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.”
The post of SUNY Chancellor was left vacant after former Chancellor Kristina Johnson resigned in June to become the president of Ohio State University. As Chancellor, Malatras will help lead the 64 SUNY campuses through financial losses and declining state support due to the pandemic.
The closed search and appointment of Malatras as Chancellor in such a short period of time after Johnson’s departure has drawn criticism from various faculty and student organizations. An open search for a new chancellor was conducted to appoint Johnson in 2017 after former Chancellor Nancy Zimpher announced her resignation the year before to ensure a smooth transition for her successor, according to the New York Times.
The SUNY Student Assembly (SUNYSA) released a statement hours after Malatras’ appointment that said that the Board of Trustees hasty decision “denied the possibility of a diverse group of qualified applicants to be considered.”
“Through a confidential search, there were missed opportunities of finding a diverse applicant pool and taking faculty, staff and student input into consideration,” Jahad Hoyte, the acting president of SUNYSA, wrote in the press release. “The lack of [student] representation and the lack of a diverse applicant pool is undoubtedly recognized by student leaders across the system.”
In a press release, the United University Professions (UUP) President Frederick Kowal said that although the UUP is disappointed that the Board of Trustees did not conduct a national search, they “trust that Dr. Malatras appreciates the need for a collaborative relationship with UUP—both to lead SUNY through the current challenge of a safe reopening and to assure that SUNY can continue to provide high quality, accessible public education.”
“SUNY has provided life-changing opportunities for millions of New Yorkers and has been a ladder of economic mobility for generations,” Kowal said. “We are also hopeful that Dr. Malatras will work with the governor to assure that SUNY has the support it needs to continue this critical mission.”