How technology has affected North Dakota’s higher-ed investigation

Gotta ask Microsoft. (Michael R. Allen via Flickr)

Here’s a potential disadvantage of outsourcing a university’s email system:

You might not be able to find out quickly whether someone has been deleting tens of thousands of emails to escape open-records laws.

That’s apparently the problem over at North Dakota State University. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem is trying to find out whether the university illegally deleted more than 45,000 emails from the account of President Dean Bresciani, the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead reports.

(IT personnel detected the possible deletions during a hunt by a North Dakota lawmaker for state emails that mentioned recently ousted University System Chancellor Hamid Shirvani.)

An emailed press statement by the university states:

“We have not yet been able to verify that any emails were deleted. Our email has been outsourced to Microsoft, so we do not have the in-house capabilities to address this quickly. We are working with Microsoft to get more information.”

(The statement says, however, “President Bresciani did not delete 45,000 emails, and he did not ask anyone to do so. “)

Forum reporter Kyle Potter told Daily Circuit host Tom Weber today it’s unclear whether the emails are completely gone, or whether IT folks will be able to resurrect them. But Potter said he’s been told they still may be accessible.

Read Potter’s story here, and I’ll post the audio of his interview with Weber when it’s ready.

FYI, here’s the note Weber received today from the university:

Hi Tom,

Regarding the media stories about allegations that NDSU President Bresicani improperly deleted emails

•  We have not received any official request for information about these allegations. We fully comply with open records requests and will cooperate with any investigation.

• Based on the media reports, the allegation is that on April 29, approximately 45,000 emails were deleted.  President Bresciani did not delete 45,000 emails, and he did not ask anyone to do so. We have not yet been able to verify that any emails were deleted. Our email has been outsourced to Microsoft, so we do not have the in-house capabilities to address this quickly. We are working with Microsoft to get more information.

• NDSU and President Bresciani have and continue to comply with North Dakota public records laws.

Anne Robinson-Paul

Communication Coordinator / University Relations

NORTH DAKOTA STATE UNIVERSITY