After being accused of deleting 45,000 emails in response to an open records request, North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani said Tuesday that the deletions may have been a result of a systematic email purge.
"I cannot imagine a means much less a motivation for me to selectively delete 45,000 emails, particularly to avoid a public records request to which I provided more than 900 pages of email responses," Bresciani said in a letter to students and staff.
The letter states that the records request was in regard to former state Board of Higher Education Chancellor Hamid Shirvani, who was placed on administrative leave by the board last week after months of pressure from critics who questioned his leadership style, WDAZ reported.
The board voted last month to buy out Shirvani's three-year contract for more than $925,000.
The university says an NDSU staff member notified an unnamed state legislator about the emails that had been allegedly deleted at roughly the same time as the public records request. The legislator subsequently made an inquiry to the legislative council, who hired an attorney to investigate.
Public records tampering is a felony offense in North Dakota
The university has not confirmed if the emails were, in fact, deleted or when.
The letter states that the North Dakota University System's IT staff enabled a feature that "automatically purges emails from the trash folder" in April. Bresciani says NDSU is looking into that possibility.
A forensic evaluation determined that Bresciani's account was also accessible by other staff members.
"It is my understanding that these staff have full access and control of my email account," Bresciani said in the letter.
The Fargo Forum posted the entire letter.