Gov. Cuomo’s right-hand man Jim Malatras appointed SUNY chancellor

The State University of New York’s trustees installed a top lieutenant to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Jim Malatras, as the system’s new chancellor on Friday, with a nearly unanimous vote despite worries about his lack of independence.

The Cuomo-controlled board opted against the traditional national search that would come with filling the post and signed off on Malatras’ appointment, claiming that the system couldn’t wait to fill the post due to financial difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“The board felt it was imperative to act now,” said Merryl Tisch, the board’s vice chairwoman.

A typical national search can take a year and cost as much as $750,000, said SUNY chief operating officer Robert Megna — himself another former top aide to Cuomo.

However, the SUNY board’s longest-serving member — who occupies one of the few seats not controlled by Cuomo — warned that forgoing the national search to stay in-house would be hugely detrimental.

“It is unfortunate that SUNY did not conduct a formal search for a SUNY chancellor,” said Cary Staller. “Without a search process, I cannot vote for this appointment.”

It’s a big win for Malatras, a tenured professor at SUNY Empire who will be teaching a course on federalism this fall, and who spent much of the coronavirus pandemic sitting alongside Cuomo during his televised daily briefings during the crisis.

“I understand people’s concerns about having a more robust search process, but we are in unprecedented times,” Malatras told reporters after his official appointment.

“My fiduciary responsibility is to the state university system, particularly the students,” he added, denying claims that his close relationship with Cuomo would impact his ability to lead the system.

He will make $450,000 annually in the new post. That’s $110,000 less than his predecessor, Kristina Johnson, who left for The Ohio State University.

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