FARGO (AP) - A new automatic purge function that North Dakota State University officials say might be to blame for the deletion of more than 45,000 of President Dean Bresciani's emails violates the school's own policies for how long records should be kept.
All emails sent and received by NDSU administrators should not be deleted for at least one year after the current fiscal year ends, but the new function dumps any emails more than a month old into a trash file, The Forum newspaper reported.
School officials haven't followed their own policy for keeping emails, in part because they weren't aware of it, NDSU Chief Information Officer Marc Wallman said. The policy likely also is impractical, he said.
"I don't think I could comply with that rule," Wallman said.
The deleted emails - some from as recent as late March - might have been subject to an open records request by the Legislative Council, the Legislature's research arm. The request came in April amid controversy over the alleged overbearing leadership style of then-Chancellor Hamid Shirvani, who has since been ousted.
The Legislative Council has asked Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to look into whether any laws were broken. Stenehjem's office has asked NDSU and the North Dakota University System to turn over information about the emails, as well as information on retention policies, by July 12.
The state's open records law gives the public the right to inspect the correspondence - including emails - of all public officials. If Stenehjem determines the NDSU emails were deleted to avoid public disclosure, he could refer the matter to a state's attorney for consideration of criminal charges, including a felony for destroying public records. There is no timetable for Stenehjem's opinion.
NDSU has maintained that Bresciani did not delete any emails or direct anyone to do so. Wallman said all of the evidence supports school officials' belief that the new automatic purge function was responsible for the deletion. That new feature was implemented by Microsoft sometime in April to make email run faster and smoother, he said. North Dakota leaves it up to each public entity to set their own schedules for deleting records.