A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about North Dakota University System Chancellor Larry Skogen giving NDSU President Dean Bresciani a temporary pass on participating in a new, consolidated university email system. The laudable goal of the university system is to create a unified system of electronic communication that allows all administrators and staff, system-wide, to send emails and share calendars on a unified platform.
But Bresciani hates the idea. After a blow up last year over tens of thousands of Bresciani’s emails that were deleted rather than turned over to legislators who were requesting them, the NDSU President accused the university system of hacking his email. Now he wants his staff to run his email system.
I wrote about it over at Watchdog.org today, and a couple of legislators tell me they’re convinced what Bresciani really wants to do is avoid open records requests. In fact, Rep. Bob Martinson went so far as to compare Bresciani to former IRS Director Lois Lerner whose mysteriously destroyed emails have confounded investigators looking into the targeting of conservative groups:
That’s how many emails state Rep. Bob Martinson, a Republican from Bismarck, said he’s received two months after he filed a request through Legislative Council for NDSU emails pertaining to the takeover of Sanford Nursing College.
Watchdog reported in April the state Legislature is reviewing the deal, which will require appropriations. Bresciani told the board legislators didn’t need to be consulted on the transaction.
Martinson isn’t the only lawmaker having trouble getting public records from NDSU. Rep. Roscoe Streyle, a Republican from Minot, tells Watchdog he has waited more than a month after a request for NDSU emails.
Both Martinson and Streyle say transparency would only get worse if NDSU is allowed to keep its emails separate from the rest of the university system. Martinson compared Bresciani to an Internal Revenue Service official made infamous by a national controversy over missing emails.
“Either Dean Bresciani went to the Lois Lerner school of email management, or she went to the Dean Bresciani school, but either way they’re both honored graduates,” Martinson said.
Martinson also says he’s convinced Bresciani deleted the emails requested by the legislature last year:
“I’m a little surprised that NDSU is the bad guy of email, and they get a pass,” he said. “It’s kind of surprising. There’s a lot of discussion among legislators and the public who follow higher ed issues who wonder what the heck is going on. They said one of their reasons is to help the system office with all of the email request they’re getting, but NDSU is the one we’re not getting them from. They’re the problem.”
Martinson thinks NDSU destroyed the Shirvani emails despite Stenehjem’s inconclusive investigation. “There’s no doubt in my mind that those emails were deleted on purpose. The reason why NDSU wants their own system is so that they don’t have to respond to email requests.”
What Skogen tells me is that he has not given NDSU a pass on participating in the unified email system. He says he’s simply delayed their participation (even though they’ve already completed internalizing their emails) pending review by Vice Chancellor and Chief Information Officer Lisa Feldner can review the matter and it can be settled by the Board of Higher Education. He also says that he feels Bresciani’s concerns about security are legitimate, though in emails Feldner and her deputy describe the move as a “power play.”
“I just saw their internal news release and it ticked me off too,” Feldner wrote to Deputy Chief Information Officer Darin King in a June 30 email, referencing NDSU’s announced move to their own email system. Feldner references that Skogen has given NDSU permission to move its administrative and staff email to its student system.
“At that point, we can also discuss if NDSU should run email for the entire system,” Feldner writes. “I told (Skogen) that wouldn’t be happening — that lack of trust runs both ways.”
“Yep, this is a classic power play,” King replied. “Get an inch and try for a mile.”
It’s worth noting that when Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem looked into Bresciani’s missing emails he found that NDSU broke open records laws, but his investigation was inconclusive as to whether or not they were destroyed on purpose.
If they were deleted on purpose it would have been a serious crime. A Class A Misdemeanor, possibly a felony.
But the larger issue here is the utter lack of trust between lawmakers and the universities. If lawmakers feel like they can’t trust the universities on issues like open records (it’s worth noting that I won another open records complaint against the NDSU Development Foundation yesterday), that’s a problem.
And I can tell you, from conversations I’ve had with lawmakers, the feelings Martinson and Streyle have about NDSU and the university system in general are not unusual.