Records Retention

Records Retention

Records Retention and Disposition at SUNY

In accordance with Section 57.05 of the NYS Arts and Cultural Affairs Law, official records of the state-operated campuses of the State University of New York and SUNY System Administration must be retained and may not be destroyed unless pursuant to applicable records retention schedules. Information that no longer serves a legal, operational, or historic value to SUNY and its campuses should be disposed of in accordance with the SUNY Records Retention Schedules. SUNY's Records Retention Policy codifies the retention periods for the various records housed by SUNY campuses. SUNY Policy 6609 has a series of appendices (available through the policy and also on the Records Retention compliance webpage) that lists all the various records, and the specific period that a campus must retain them, and what records must be kept permanently. This SUNY policy and appendices has been pre-approved by State Archives and the Office of the State Comptroller. When the SUNY Schedule does not cover a particular record, SUNY campuses are to defer to the New York State schedule (available on the State Archives website) for the proper retention period.


Applicable Laws and Regulations

Law

Regulations

SUNY Policy, State Policy & SUNY Procedures on Records Retention

SUNY Policy and State Policy for State-operated campuses

State Policy for Community Colleges

Related SUNY Procedures

SUNY Records Management Resources

SUNY Records Management Listserv:

SUNY Guidance Documents:

Sample Campus Information:


Records Information and Guidance

The following information comes from the SUNY Guidance Document, Records Retention and Disposition at SUNY Campuses.

SUNY Employees Have an Obligation to Manage Records

SUNY employees have an obligation to dispose of records that no longer serve a legal, operational, or historic value to SUNY and its campuses.  Records that are kept past their retention period pose a risk to SUNY.  When the records retention schedules are followed proactively, they help SUNY to avoid risks and preserve resources.

Records Retention and Disposition at SUNY

Retention and disposition of official records of the campuses of the State University of New York are governed by the NYS Arts and Cultural Affairs Law.  In accordance with New York State law, SUNY has two policies that govern the record retention practices of official SUNY records:

  1. SUNY Records Retention and Disposition Policy 6609 – records schedules in appendices section to Policy
  2. New York State Policy: New York State General Retention and Disposition Schedule for New York State Government Records

SUNY’s official records at SUNY campuses and SUNY System Administration must be retained pursuant to applicable records retention schedules detailed in the two policies.

SUNY campuses should first look to the SUNY schedules to see if the record is covered into one of the subject-matter schedules.  If the SUNY Schedule does not cover a particular record, SUNY campuses are to defer to the General Retention and Disposition Schedule for New York State Government Records.  As a general rule, the SUNY records schedules outline education records, and other records specific to higher education. 

Both the SUNY schedule and the New York State schedule outline minimum retention periods that SUNY campus and System Administration records must be retained.  After the minimum retention for a record is reached, the records should be disposed of unless they still serve a legal, operational, or historic value.

Disposing of Records

Information that no longer serves a legal, operational, or historic value to SUNY and its campuses should be disposed of in accordance with the SUNY Record Retention Policy Doc. No. 6609 schedules or the New York State Policy: New York State General Retention and Disposition Schedule for New York State Government Records.

Once the given retention period for a particular record has passed, the records should be disposed of in a secure manner, giving consideration to the nature and contents of the records, and the confidentiality of the information contained therein.  Campuses are required to maintain an inventory of the records that the campus disposed of for their own recordkeeping.  The campuses Records Management Officer has responsibility to maintain this list. 

Why Records Management Is Critical to Compliance

When the records retention schedules are followed proactively, they help SUNY to avoid risks and preserve resources. Consequences of inadequate Records Management include:

Retaining Records Longer than the Minimum Retention

No records should be retained on SUNY campuses past their retention period unless they still serve a documented LEGAL, OPERATIONAL, or HISTORIC value to the institution based on one of the following justifications.

  1. Discovery:  The records are the subject of a litigation discovery request.
  2. FOIL/ Information Request:  The records are the subject of a current, ongoing FOIL or information request that has not yet been resolved or closed.
  3. Legal Hold:  The records are the subject of a legal hold, because a SUNY Counsel member has determined, in accordance with the SUNY Legal Proceeding Preparation (E-Discovery) Procedure Doc. No. 6610, that the records may have relevance in a future litigation.
  4. Historic:  The records could be considered historic at some point in the future.  The SUNY schedule accounts for this history, as many high-level administration records of the campus are permanent.  However, there will be circumstances where records may not have originated from the administration, but may still be historically relevant to the SUNY institution.
  5. Operational Value and Need:  The SUNY office has determined that the records serve a necessary operational value to the office, and that the operational value outweighs the risks that come with holding onto the records. Operational value and need should be used sparingly to justify retaining records longer than the minimum retention, and should be restricted to circumstances where it truly is a need, and that need should be documented, given the risks that come along with having too many records and holding them for too long.

Deciding when to Retain Longer than the Minimum Retention: In one of these five circumstances, offices may believe it is necessary to retain records for longer than the retention listed on the schedule.  If a campus or office does decide to retain records for longer than the schedule retention, they should consult with their Records Management Officer to discuss their reasons for retaining the records and document their reasoning.  

Compliance with Records Retention Schedules at the SUNY Campuses

Campuses shall utilize appropriate means to ensure compliance with the applicable schedules and retention periods.  Each campus has designated a local Record Management Officer (RMO) in accordance with SUNY Records Retention and Disposition Policy 6609 to ensure compliance with the SUNY records retention schedules at their campuses. Campuses must notify the SUNY System-Wide Records Management Officer of the local campus RMO designee.  RMO's are responsible for facilitating compliance with the Records Retention schedules and maintaining a campus inventory of records. 

The SUNY Compliance website maintains an RMO Resource webpage with information, tools and guidance for all SUNY Campus RMO's. In addition, SUNY's System-wide Records Management Officer maintains a Records Management Officer listserv for the RMO's to ask questions and share best practices and resources.

Records Management Officer Role

The SUNY Policy requires that each state-operated campus appoint a Records Management Officer to report to the SUNY System-wide Records Management Officer.  The System-wide Records Management Officer acts as a liaison between SUNY and State Archives. 

Each SUNY campus is required to designate a Records Management Officer in accordance with the SUNY Records Policy.  The Records Management Officer role is established by the SUNY Policy 6609, Records Retention and Disposition, pursuant to NYS Arts and Cultural Affairs Law Section 57.05 and Commissioner’s Regulations 8 NYCRR Part 188.  The policy states the following:

“Each campus should designate a local records management officer and notify the SUNY RMO of such designation. It is the responsibility of the campus RMO to report annually, by September 1 of each year, to the SUNY RMO on disposition actions taken by such campus during the previous academic year and to maintain the campus inventory of records. Requests for approval of retention schedules with shorter retention periods should be submitted by a campus through their local RMO to the SUNY RMO for transmittal to State Archives.”

Note that the SUNY Records Management Officer Role is separate and apart from the Records Access Officer/ FOIL Officer role that is required by SUNY’s FOIL Procedure, Document No. 6601, Compliance with the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).  The Records Access Officer is charged with facilitation of compliance with New York’s Freedom of Information (FOIL) law.  In contrast, the Records Management Officer (RMO) is charged with facilitating a Records Management and Disposition program at their campus.

When a campus appoints a Records Management Officer, they should do so with a written Designation that comes directly from the campus President.  This formal Designation will afford clarity on who has Records Management Officer responsibilities as a formal and official part of their job at the campus.

Damaged Records

Records that are damaged by water are not completely lost. Vendors have the ability to freeze the damaged records to retard any mold growth and then review your files. The State Archives maintains a list of disaster recovery vendors that includes vendors who will pick up your records, freeze them, and then freeze dry/restore them, see the New York State Archives page on Disaster Assistance.  Some of the vendors listed on the disaster recovery (and other) vendors list are already on state contract. There is a link to OGS's state contract for Emergency Standby Services and the Hazardous Incident Response Equipment (HIRE) at the top of the disaster recovery list.

Before you destroy any records, you must obtain authorization from the State Archives to do so.  This processed is facilitated through the SUNY System-wide Records Management Officer to State Archives.  Campuses wishing to make these requests should contact the SUNY System-wide Records Management Officer. 

For general information about requesting early destruction of records with New York State and what it entails, refer to the New York State Archives website on early destruction of records

Archival and Historical Records

In order to preserve records of historical and archival value, certain categories of records have a permanent retention on the schedule.  Among these are Presidents’ annual reports, minutes of campus councils, governance organization minutes or handbooks, inaugural or commencement records and important documents generated by or for the campuses such as strategic plans, accreditation reports, etc. Campuses should adhere carefully to the schedules for such records, retain them in a safe place and ensure their preservation when they are no longer needed on a daily basis.

Digitization of Records at SUNY

At SUNY, the SUNY Records Retention Policy Doc. No. 6609 affords SUNY campuses permission to digitize all records, with very limited exceptions.  These exceptions are noted directly on the SUNY records schedule that corresponds to the type of record classification.  If the SUNY Policy schedule item does not have a specific notation that paper records must be retained, then SUNY campuses can digitize and destroy the paper files.  Similarly, those items listed on the State schedule are also able to be digitized under the authority of the Policy.  Since the SUNY policy has been approved by the Office of the State Comptroller and State Archives, we do not require pre-approval to digitize records (all other state agencies must get pre-approval from State Archives before digitization).  If a SUNY campus decides to digitize records, they should not retain the original records.  Instead, they should digitize the records, ensure the electronic records meet the criteria listed in the SUNY Policy regarding electronic conversion, and then dispose of the originals in a safe manner.

Requirements for Digitization:

The SUNY Records Retention Policy Doc. No. 6609’s Introduction section (available in the appendices) states the following regarding Electronic Conversion:

“Periodically, campuses or the System Administration may decide to replace official records in paper with electronic or digital copies. Most records in the SUNY Schedule have been pre-authorized for replacement in the SUNY Records Retention Schedule such that paper records which have been scanned or otherwise converted may be destroyed prior to the end of their retention period. If not pre-authorized, replacement and destruction of paper records can occur only upon approval by State Archives. Such approval requests shall be made by the SUNY Records Management Officer upon request of the campus concerned. Campuses intending to replace paper records with electronic or imaged copies are required to ensure that:

    1. the images will accurately and completely reproduce all the information in the records being imaged;
    2. the imaged records will not be rendered unusable due to changing or proprietary technology before their retention and preservation requirements are met;
    3. the imaging system will not permit additions, deletions, or changes to the images without leaving a record of such additions, deletions, or changes; and
    4. designees of the State University of New York will be able to authenticate the imaged records by competent testimony or affidavit which shall include the manner or method by which tampering or degradation of the reproduction is prevented.”

Campuses that are planning to digitize need to have a plan in place to ensure that the documents are kept electronically in a file format that will remain accessible overtime (think VHS tapes or tape players in today’s age – it is hard to get the content off of a VHS tape or a tape, without the VCR or the 1980’s boom box and stereo).  Whatever format the campus uses, they need to be sure that the format will be good long-term, or have a plan in place for if the file format ever becomes obsolete.  

Campuses should work with their IT departments when considering digitization to ensure proper file formats, and also that the campus has adequate electronic server storage space to handle the electronic data.

Email Retention at SUNY

Most emails are NOT records. Most emails are simply ESI (Electronically Stored Information) without a lasting legal, operational, or historic value. Only emails that serve a legal, operational, or historical value are records, and the rest should be deleted accordingly.   There is no set retention period for email because it is simply a medium upon which information is stored. Retention periods are best tied to the information in a record, not the medium on which it is stored. This is why we do not have retention policies for paper, videotapes, Word, Excel, .PDF, or any other materials that we use to store information.

The SUNY Records Retention Policy Doc. No. 6609 addresses email in the Introduction section (available in the appendices to the Policy). The introduction says the following with regard to email:

“Generally, records transmitted through email systems have the same retention periods as records in other formats that are related to the same function or activity. Email records should be scheduled for disposition in conjunction with any other records related to that function or activity. Campus and University officials may delete, purge, or destroy email records if the records have been retained for the minimum retention period established in the RR&D Schedule and are not being retained for a legal action or otherwise subject to a litigation hold or for an audit. Transitory messages may be destroyed when no longer needed. For further guidance on the disposition of e-mail messages and attachments, see item 90369 in the State Archives’ General Retention and Disposition Schedule for New York State Government Records (available through a page on the State Archives website where the schedule is published).”

SUNY’s email retention approach is to classify emails that are records by determining the subject matter and purpose of the email. The content of the email will determine what, if any, classification of records the email falls under, and retention of the email will then be in accordance with the SUNY Records Schedules based on the type of record it is. Emails that fall into a specific categories of records on the two records schedules that apply to SUNY should be kept in accordance with the corresponding schedule item. The schedules applicable to SUNY are available via the SUNY Policy Doc. No. 6609 Records Retention and Disposition (with schedule appendices that cover activities related to SUNY-specific business), and the State Archives’ General Retention and Disposition Schedule for New York State Government Records schedule that covers records common to all state agencies – such as financial and employment records. Emails that do not fall into a category of records identified on either the SUNY schedule or the State schedule are likely not records, and should be deleted permanently unless they serve an important operational value to the employee or are subject to a legal hold.

An example: If the email represents part of an individual student’s conduct record—a charge notice for instance—it should be kept in accordance with the SUNY schedule item on student conduct records and retention of such records. If an email is an invitation to a meeting, it probably has no value after it has been read (or maybe after the meeting has taken place) and should be deleted.

Emails that are not records, and are just ESI with no legal, operational or historic value, convert to a record when the following “trigger” scenarios occur:

Only ESI that exists at moment of a "trigger" can convert to a record. But the events above will serve to convert existing email that previously served no legal, operational, or historic value into a record, which triggers our legal obligation to preserve.  This is why we should delete emails that do not constitute a “record.”  See the SUNY Email Retention Guidance for more detailed information on email retention.

Being a Records Custodian

A records “custodian” is any officer, employee, or agent of the University who possesses, controls, or maintains any record, information, or data of the University.  The records custodian is the office or person who has been deemed as the official keeper for that particular type of record.  Only an office or person who is the official custodian of a record has an obligation, legal or otherwise, to retain the information.  It follows that if an office, or an employee, is not considered the official custodian of a particular category of records, they have no obligation to retain the information. 

Any office or person that is in possession of records for which they are not the official custodian, they should dispose of those records that they are not the custodian for once the record has no operational value to the office.  Maintaining records that are not the responsibility of the office only causes redundant sets of records and confusion about which sets of records are accurate and complete.

Convenience/Courtesy Copies

There is even a term for the information that an office possesses that they are not the true custodian of.  “Convenience” or “courtesy” copies is a term used to describe the records that are in the possession of an office/employee that is not the official custodian of those records, such that the copies are not “records” when in the possession of the office that is not the custodian.  They are mere duplicates (“courtesy” or “convenience”) copies.

As a best practice, every few years, SUNY campuses should look at the records schedules and indicate next to each item what office is the official custodian of the record.  This list should be distributed to each campus office so they are aware of what records they are the official custodian of, and therefore responsible to maintain, and what records they have that are duplicate copies of a record that belongs to another office. 

Records Definitions

What is a record?

The SUNY Records Retention Policy Doc. No. 6609 defines a record as follows:

“Records - all books, papers, microforms, computer-readable tapes, discs or other media, maps, photographs, film, video and sound recordings, or other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by State University of New York or its campuses in pursuance of law or in connection with the transaction of University business and retained by the University as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations, or other activities. Library or museum materials made or acquired and preserved solely for reference or exhibition purposes, extra copies of documents preserved only for convenience of reference, and stocks of publications and of blank forms shall not be deemed to constitute records.” 

A “record” possess all of the following three elements:  

  1. Documentary material
    • In any physical form, including, but not limited to, reports, statements, examinations, memoranda, opinions, folders, files, books, manuals, pamphlets, forms, papers, designs, drawings, maps, photos, letters, microfilms, computer tapes or discs, rules, regulations or codes
    • Kept, held, filed, produced or reproduced by, with or for an agency or the state legislature
  2. Transmitted or stored by a campus, and
  3. Has legal or operational, or historical value

What is ESI?

ESI is a term that refers to Electronically Stored Information.  ESI means any information, record, document, file or data that is stored electronically.  ESI may include documents, audio recordings, videotape, e-mail, instant messages, text messages, word processing documents, spreadsheets, databases, calendars, telephone logs, contact information, Internet usage files, metadata, and all other electronic information created, received, and/or maintained on computer systems.  ESI may reside on any University program, system, device, or server of any kind or in an employee’s personal devices and accounts if such devices and accounts are used for conducting University business. 

ESI is electronic documentation without a lasting legal, operational, or historic value.  In essence, ESI is electronic information that is not a record, because it does not serve a legal, operational, or historical value are records.  ESI should not be retained by SUNY campuses, because there is no obligation to keep information that serves no value or purpose to the campus. 

What is Records Management?

The process of identifying, classifying, using, securing, retaining/storing, prioritizing, archiving, preserving, retrieving, tracking, and disposing of “records”

What is a records custodian?

A records “custodian” is any officer, employee, or agent of the University who possesses, controls, or maintains any record, information, or data of the University.  The records custodian is the office or person who has been deemed as the official keeper for that particular type of record.

What is e-discovery?

“E-Discovery” is a short hand term for the process of preserving and exchanging ESI in the context of modern litigation or other legal processes.  The “E” in E-discovery stands for “electronic.”  During the discovery process for electronic records, data is identified as potentially relevant by attorneys and placed on a legal hold for purposes of litigation, information requests, employee disputes, audits or investigations, FOIL requests under New York law, and any other data-gathering processes.  Evidence is then extracted and analyzed using digital forensic procedures, and is reviewed for relevancy by programs and/or people.

Using the SUNY and State Disposition Schedules to find the appropriate retention for Records at SUNY Institutions

Records Retention at SUNY State-operated Campuses

SUNY State-Operated Campuses Use the SUNY Retention Schedules and the NYS General Retention schedule for the minimum retention period for their records, but in a particular order.

  1. SUNY Schedules:  SUNY campuses should look to the SUNY Records Retention and Disposition Policy 6609 schedules first.  The schedules are listed in the appendices to the SUNY Records Policy, and are organized by subject matter.
  2. New York State General Retention and Disposition Schedule:  If the SUNY schedules do not have an item that corresponds to a record, the campus should then look to the General Retention and Disposition Schedule for New York State Government Records.

SUNY Policy and Schedules:

SUNY's records retention policy SUNY Record Retention Policy Doc. No. 6609 and records retention schedules, available via the SUNY Policy’s appendices section, codifies the minimum retention periods that SUNY State-operated campuses must follow when retaining their records.  The records schedules are classified by subject, and detail the types of records SUNY has, and the minimum length of time that SUNY must retain those records for legal, operational and historic reasons.  The SUNY schedules mainly cover records related to SUNY-specific and academic activities. 

New York State Policy:

The New York State General Retention and Disposition Schedule for New York State Government Records schedule covers records common to all state agencies – such as financial and employment records, and identifies the minimum retention period for these types of records.  The schedule provides authorizations for state agencies and SUNY’s State-operated campuses to dispose of common administrative records with minimum retention requirements.  

How the State Policy Schedules are classified:  The New York State policy classifies records by determining the subject matter and purpose of the record.  The content of the record will determine what, if any, classification of records it falls under, and retention of that document will then be in accordance with the State Policy based on the type of record it is.  Records that fall into a specific subject matter category should be kept in accordance with the corresponding schedule item. 

When a record does is not listed on the SUNY Policy schedules or the State Policy:
Information that does not fall into a category of records identified on either the SUNY schedule or the State schedule are likely not records, and should be deleted permanently unless they serve an important operational value to the employee or are subject to a legal hold.  If they are records that you believe should be on a schedule, you should contact your campus Records Management Officer to alert them to the fact that the schedule does not cover a type of record.  They will work with the SUNY System Records Management Officer to work to get the record on the schedule permanently.

SUNY Research Foundation (RF) Records

Records created and maintained by the Research Foundation for SUNY should be retained in accordance with the RF’s Records Management Policy, available through the SUNY RF Policy Portal.  The RF Records Management Policy includes three subject-matter schedules referenced within the policy, specifically Account Expenditure RecordsPerson-related Records, and Project Administration Records.  The Policy addresses the fact that some research records may not be RF records, but records of the SUNY campus. 

Where SUNY Records and RF Records Overlap: With respect to “Research-Related Records that are not RF Records” the policy states that “Research-related Records in the custody, possession, or control of a SUNY campus are subject to SUNY policy and procedure, including but not limited to the State University of New York Records Retention Policy and Schedule.”  Additionally, the policy allows for “RF operations managers” to override the RF Records Management Policy and use the SUNY Policy exclusively by “elect[ing] to adopt” the SUNY records policy and schedules “to govern the management of research-related Records at their location, in conformance with” campuses local policy-making procedures.

Records Retention at SUNY Community Colleges

Records maintained by the Community Colleges operating under the program of the State University of New York are governed by one of two schedules established by State Archives. 

The SUNY community colleges do not use the SUNY Record Retention Policy Doc. No. 6609 to retain their records.  The SUNY Policy only applies to State-operated campuses.

If you have specific questions about what can, and cannot be disposed of, please contact the Records Management Officer at SUNY System Administration.

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The information contained on the SUNY Compliance website is for general campus guidance only and is not intended, nor can be relied upon, as legal advice or the imposition on SUNY campuses of specific policies or requirements. The site is intended to be an informational-only clearinghouse for some of the laws, rules, and regulations that may impact the State University of New York’s campuses. Additionally, given the rapid, changing nature of laws, rules and regulations, there may be delays or omissions contained on this site which therefore cannot be relied upon as complete. For complete compliance information, consult your campus compliance officials. For legal advice, consult your lawyer.

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