Email “Auto-Purge” Violates University System Retention Policies

Higher Ed Tuition

Since the scandal over NDSU President Dean Bresciani’s deleted emails erupted, with Legislative Council accusing him of deleting emails to avoid a public records request (potentially a felony, if true), Bresciani and his media people at NDSU have been trying to claim that it was the fault of an auto-purge system that was implemented by the university system earlier this year.

But, according to university system policy, the auto-purge system violates retention policies:

FARGO — A new automatic purge function that North Dakota State University officials say may be to blame for more than 45,000 of President Dean Bresciani’s emails being deleted violates the school’s own policies for how long records should be kept.

All emails sent and received by school administrators can’t be deleted for at least one year after the current fiscal year ends, according to the school’s record retention schedule.

But the new function dumps any emails more than a month old in an account’s trash file.

NDSU’s interim chief information officer, Marc Wallman, said school officials haven’t followed their own policy for keeping emails, in part because they weren’t aware of the policy.

“That’s never been our understanding here,” he said.

It’s worth remembering that President Bresciani wasn’t the only university system president from whom emails were requested. Similar requests were made to other presidents who had no problem coming up with the emails (I’m assuming based on the fact that Legislative Council hasn’t had to go to the Attorney General by them). So everyone else in the university system seems to have been aware of the retention policy, except Bresciani?

That seems unlikely.

Also, the idea that emails can be “retained” for public scrutiny for up to a year in the trash bin is ridiculous, nor does it pass muster at other universities. “At UND, [spokesman Peter] Johnson said the Outlook trash bin isn’t adequate,” reports Kyle Potter for the Forum Communications. “If your intent is to keep it, that’s not the place to store it,” Johnson is quoted as saying.


The only way Bresciani’s emails could be auto-purged is if someone put them in the trash bin. Putting emails in the trash bin is not how you keep them available for public scrutiny in accordance with open records laws.

I suspect NDSU is claiming ignorance about the university system’s retention policies to give Bresciani an out when it comes to the criminal implications of the code. At this point, I thin it’s inevitable that the Attorney General is going to find an open records violation, but this muddying the waters around the retention policy will likely provide just enough plausible deniability to avoid charges.

Of course, then there’s the question of what was in the emails.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Roy_Bean

    They will try to use the concept of plausible deniability but there is also the problem of highly educated university presidents being held to a higher standard. He has said that we, the unwashed masses, aren’t able to understand all the complex principals that he is so he has already placed himself on a pedestal. He may be more in need of a parachute than a golden parachute.

  • Plausible Deniability

    The NDSU bafoons continue to insult the intelligence of North Dakotans. It’s a major red flag when it’s dragged out this long to determine publicly something as simple as the digital footprint of who did what with the emails. Another red flag is Microsoft’s involvement. RobertD commened in a previous post that he (or she?) heard a rumor that SBHE member Don Morton (who also runs Microsoft’s NDSU campus) was attemtping to help Bresciani create confusion about the emails). The red flag of most concern should be NDUS and Skogen purging system office employees who turned over Bresciani’s 45,000 emails to the AG and replacing them with the likes of NDSU’s legal counsel = fox watching henhouse. The lunatics are running the asylum!

  • Just a little info
    • Ed Q

      Those are the policies being talked about. However, from my understanding, those retention polices aren’t going to be what are set by the university system. There are limits to how much can be retained, so they probably went with the policies that delete items for good instead of archive. If the A3 licenses are used, advanced data retention is built in, and there is unlimited retention storage. It is my understanding they went with A2 licenses, which are free, instead of $54 / year / employee for A3. Expecting each and every individual employee to be able to comply with email records retention is pretty crazy. They should just pony up for the licenses. I’ve seen the retention policies at some of these places. Having to keep different records for different periods of time. Some records might be current calendar year plus one, others might be current fiscal year plus 2 where of course in the state fiscal years start in July. Then they vary based off of if you are the record creator, holder, or copy holder. On top of all of that, to actually follow record retention, you have to remove the records on schedule as well. So you can’t just be safe and keep everything for 6 years to cover the longest retention, as you would be violating the ones that are only to be kept for 2 years.

  • headward

    Even if he did violate the open record laws, nobody will get punished except a letter saying he violated it. People in the private sector would be arrested and they’d have their day in court. Gov’t employees get passes all the time when they mishandle taxpayers’ money or information.

  • ND Observer

    NDSU wants to have it all ways diverting attention from their lack of transparency, honesty, and involvement with getting rid of their boss, the chancellor. There is three years of emails (2009-13) stored on the President’s computer but then magically on the day of a open records request their is an automatic purge of 45,000 emails blamed on the software. Hmmm. Then they claim they can’t store that many emails after storing 3 years just fine. Hmmm.Then they claim they were stored in email trash bin. Hmmm. Is that all believable? Then the NDSU CIO says they were not aware of the higher ed system’s policy on email retention. Hmmm. The only ones who think Bresciani is innocent anymore are Sen. Flakol and Sen. Grindberg and perhaps Diederich. Odd that the other president’s had no problem with this open records request. Perhaps the Attorney General needs to dig deep to get to the truth because it sure is not flowing out easilyl.

  • Tim

    OK, so NDSU might be able to claim ignorance on the NDUS policy, but can Brescani claim ignorance on NDSU’s own retention policy? Any why is Eric Miller (Internal Auditor) referred to as the records management coordinator – shouldn’t Brescani know by this title that NDSU has a records retention policy?

    The only plausible explanation is that Brescani moved those files to the trash himself, even a 6 yr old knows that if you move something to the trash bin, that it will be trashed. He knew that by keeping these in his in bin in their email system they never would have been purged but by moving them they will be purged.

    I think Brescani is full aware of these policies and the purge function and that is why he moved those files to the trash bin. And for the Records Manager (also the internal auditor who said that NDSU didn’t have any say over whether or not Tony Grindberg could double dip even though Chapman/Brescani was his boss (a different story)) to say he doesn’t know whether or not moving things to the trash bin is deleting a record or not is laughable. He has lost all credibility as the records manager and in my humble opinion as the internal auditor as well. When you have an internal auditor looking out more for the university than the taxpayers, its time for him to resign.

    NDSU has their own records retention policy on their website and while they can claim ignorance (or stupidity) over the NDUS policy, they can’t claim ignorance over their own policy. Each office/department at NDSU is supposed to submit an annual report to the records manager of the records that have run their course, so I feel they are lying.

    Here is what I found on the NDSU website –

    No its a CYA at NDSU and the FORUM Is complicit. They are nothing but a shill for NDSU, why not do a follow up question to Eric Miller when he said that he didn’t think that moving things to trash is deleting a record, what the hell does he think the trash bin is for?? NO, the FORUM will never do anything to make NDSU look bad.

  • Jana

    “I suspect NDSU is claiming ignorance about the university system’s
    retention policies to give Bresciani an out when it comes to the
    criminal implications of the code.”

    Wait…I thought NDSU and Bresciani already had an “out” a week or so ago with the NDUS IT personnel. OH! Wait, they were ignorant about that too and was proved incorrect. I wonder what they will use as an out 3 weeks from now?

  • devilschild

    I wouldn’t sleep a wink if I had something this major hanging over me.

  • RobertD

    The legislature passed into law the movement of all legal counsel in the NDUS to the System Office which the Presidents opposed. So first they tried to get rid of the NDUS general counsel Holloway and when the Governor took Skogen and Diederich to the woodshed the reversed themselves but named her, the lead of legal at NDSU and UND as co general counsels so there is still not oversight of the Presidents. They are beyond corrupt!