Jim Malatras resigned as chancellor of the State University of New York (SUNY) in December 2021 under political pressure arising from disparaging statements he made in text messages about a former state employee who had accused then-Governor Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment.
The terms of SUNY’s separation agreement with Malatras surfaced just over a month later. SUNY agreed to give Malatras a $450,000 paid year of “study leave” and a tenured faculty position at SUNY Empire College with a $186,660 annual salary. Malatras in return agreed to release any claims he had against SUNY. The year of study leave was remarkable and widely covered by the media for two primary reasons:
- Malatras stepped into the chancellor position less than 18 months earlier amidst questions over SUNY’s decision to forgo a national search.
- And the SUNY Trustees have rules regarding study leave for the chancellor based on length of service. A chancellor can be eligible for two months of study leave paid at full salary every third year of service. A chancellor who serves five years may be granted a one-semester study leave or equivalent at full salary. Nothing in SUNY’s rules provides for a year-long study leave, let alone one following less than a year and a half of service.
In response to questions, numerous news outlets reported the following statement from SUNY spokesman Leo Rosales:
After a thorough review by outside counsel, the SUNY Board of Trustees have resolved and fulfilled its contractual obligations to former Chancellor Dr. Jim Malatras. Consistent with his initial contract. Dr. Malatras will be provided on-year study leave followed by a tenured faculty position at Empire State College. We believe this resolution is fair and equitable.
Many questions were left unanswered.
GJC submitted a Freedom of Information Law request to see (1) whether an engagement agreement and billing records reflect that outside counsel provided a thorough review of a deal that appeared to have no basis in law, (2) what claims Malatras could have asserted against SUNY that he released, and (3) what the SUNY Trustees did to approve the agreement.
SUNY’s response: “Please be advised that SUNY System Administration does not have possession of records responsive to your request and no responsive records can be found following a diligent search.”
GJC appealed. SUNY denied the appeal. The appeals officer confirmed that, as of April 13, 2022, SUNY did not have an engagement agreement with a law firm nor had it been billed for legal work. It also had no record of the SUNY Trustees taking any action on SUNY’s extraordinary agreement with Malatras.