NDSU President Dean Bresciani is facing allegations that he deleted over 45,000 emails the same day he received a records request for emails from the state legislature, a breech of public record laws that could be as serious as a felony. Yesterday, a spokeswoman told the Fargo Forum that those emails weren’t deleted by Bresciani (the article has been changed since the original publication to backtrack on the denial that the emails weren’t deleted at all):
NDSU spokeswoman Laura McDaniel issued a written statement Monday, stating the university has not yet verified if emails were deleted, but that NDSU will cooperate with any investigation.
“President Bresciani did not delete 45,000 emails on April 29,” nor did he request that anyone delete emails, McDaniel wrote. “We are looking into the matter.”
But the North Dakota University System office confirmed to Legislative Council that the emails were, in fact, deleted from Bresciani’s inbox. Here’s an email sent by NDUS General Counsel Claire Holloway to a legislative attorney indicating that the IT department had confirmed the deletion:
Now, in a letter sent out to the NDSU campus, Bresciani is defending himself and attacking a university system employee for tipping off the legislature about the deleted emails even going so far as to suggest that his email inbox was hacked by the university system office:
In a troubling turn of events, NDSU’s forensic evaluation of my email also revealed that it has been
compromised, on a range of dates during the time frame under study, by a variety of computer accountscontrolled by the North Dakota University System office without notification to me or anyone at NDSU. It is myunderstanding that these staff have full access and control of my email account. You can imagine my chagrinat the discovery
Bresciani goes on to say that he will “dismiss” the allegations that he broke open records laws as an “unfortunate artifact” of Chancellor Hamid Shirvani’s tenure (he doesn’t mention Shirvani by name).
Other defenses posited by Bresciani include the idea that it would be physically impossible for him to delete over 45,000 emails in the timeframe suggested. Apparently President Bresciani has never heard of a search function, or “select all.”
Bresciani also accuses a NDUS employee of “tipping off” legislators about the deleted emails rather than keeping that news internal to the university system. He makes that complaint as if alerting our policy makers that they may not be getting all the information they requested were a bad thing.
As a work of political craftsmanship, you really have to admire what Bresciani is doing here. The fact that 45,000 emails disappeared doesn’t seem to be in dispute with the NDUS legal counsel confirming it happened. What Bresciani does is suggest alternate explanations and subtly pinning it on the much-reviled (by apologists for the university presidents) Hamid Shirvani instead of the well-known, and well-documented hostility toward transparency which is present on our campuses.
The question is, do these explanations and excuses from Bresciani give him enough plausible deniability to avoid culpability for deleting the emails? One thing is for sure, something weird definitely happened with Bresciani’s emails around the time legislators were requesting them.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem is investigating whether or not there were any open records violations, and based on those conclusions whether or not Bresciani broke any criminal laws will be determined.