FARGO, N.D. — North Dakota State University has turned over to the state’s Legislative Council nearly 2,000 pages of emails deleted from President Dean Bresciani’s account.
The council in April had requested Bresciani’s correspondence that mentioned Hamid Shirvani, who at the time was chancellor of the university system. The council got 900 pages of emails, but university officials later determined that more than 45,000 emails had been deleted from Bresciani’s account.
The Forum newspaper reported that NDSU then found 1,950 pages of deleted emails that should have been sent to the Legislative Council. Those were turned over last week.
The newspaper reported that few of the 1,950 pages of deleted emails were sent by Bresciani. Many of the emails are longer chains, with more replies from co-workers, or different versions of the same emails that the Legislative Council received after its initial request. In most cases, the emails contain information previously published by the Forum newspaper after open records requests.
The deleted emails included ones Bresciani sent to others that expressed his disdain for Shirvani, his staff and officials from other North Dakota universities. Also included are several hundred automatic updates from an online petition calling on Bresciani to unfreeze funding for sexual education programming.
It’s still unclear whether the emails were deleted inadvertently, on purpose or as a result of a system error. NDSU has maintained that Bresciani did not delete any emails or direct anyone else to do so. University officials have said they believe a new automatic purging function is to blame.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem is now looking into whether NDSU violated the state’s open records law.
North Dakota’s open records law gives the public the right to inspect the correspondence, including emails, of all public officials, including Bresciani and the other university presidents.
If Stenehjem determines the emails were deleted to avoid public disclosure, he could refer the matter to a state’s attorney for consideration of criminal charges.