Faculty Papers: The Records Schedule as an Appraisal Tool

By Ruth Bryan

This post is the fourth in a series designed to provide background and context for a panel presentation about faculty papers scheduled during the College and University Archives’ meeting during the 2017 SAA Annual Meeting.

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Cover, Kentucky State University Model Records Retention Schedule

The Kentucky State University Model Records Retention Schedule is a legally mandated appraisal tool created and maintained by the State Archives and Records Commission for university records that are acquired by or transferred to the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) at the University of Kentucky (UK). This is because UK (in Lexington, KY) is considered a public institution, a body created and funded by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. In Kentucky law, a public record is any item prepared, owned, used, in the possession of, or retained by a public agency; thus, any record created, used, and/or in UK’s possession is a public record.

Based on the KRS definition of a public record, those documents created, acquired, and accumulated by UK faculty in the course of their professional and scholarly life would be considered public records, subject to appraisal for destruction or permanent retention according to the state-wide model university records schedule. The schedule is organized into 21 functional areas (such as general records, fiscal records, personnel/payroll records, bookstore records). Within each functional area, there are series by record type, such as official and general correspondence in general records and university operating budget in fiscal records. Each series has a unique number (Uxxxx), a description of the record type, a retention period, and a disposition requirement once that retention period is met—usually destruction or permanent retention either in the responsible unit or in the archives.

For several years after I was hired as Director of Archives and University Archivist in Special Collections in September 2011, I didn’t give much thought to the selection process for faculty papers. SCRC serves as both the institutional archives for the permanent records of the university and as a collecting repository, acquiring materials in all physical formats documenting the social, cultural, economic, and political history of Kentucky (Boles, 2005). Special Collections has always collected faculty papers (although rarely solicited them) as documentation of the teaching, research, and service functions of the university as well as the history of Kentucky, generally (Mayer, 1992; Laver, 2003). They are almost always donated rather than transferred and have deeds of gift documenting the donation. Archivists have mostly said “yes” to any collection offered, which since the early 1990s, we have been able to do because of the availability of a huge off-site storage space in a cave 30 miles south of Lexington.

Lately, though, I’ve been thinking more about the pros and cons of relying on the model schedule to appraise faculty papers. Faculty operate both inside and parallel to university administration, in a shared governance arrangement that is unique among other state agencies and organizations public and private, for- and non-profit. Faculty are responsible for graduate and unit-specific academic/educational policy. As one of the UK Governing Regulations states, “…faculty bodies and administrators will reciprocally solicit and utilize the expertise of the other as each makes decisions in their respective areas of policy-making authority.” This balance of power is necessary to move forward the mission of higher education, which relies both on individuals’ teaching and research and on shared institutional resources.  On the ground, however (and potentially documented in records), shared governance often means that at a minimum, faculty activities and functions are quite different from administration, and at a maximum, that faculty are (often properly) at odds with administrators and university trustees.

Faculty may thus be creating and using both similar and different types of records than administrators; may need to refer to them for both similar and different periods of time than administrators; and their papers may have both similar and different historical value from the records transferred to University Archives from administrative/business units. Thus, while the model schedule is (properly) concerned with managing the university’s current and non-current records for efficiency in retrieval and new record creation, legal compliance, resource management, and protection of vital records (Diamond, 1995), as an appraisal tool used for records and information management, it serves as an “internal regulator” focused on its parent organization (Harries, 2011). As a method for deciding what documents to retain in a particular faculty person’s papers and for deciding which collections to accept, there are ways in which the model schedule falls short.

For example, course syllabi (series U0415) are scheduled for retention for “five years from the date last offered by the department, then destroyed unless an accreditation board requires a longer retention period” (p. 21). It probably does make sense for a department secretary or the Canvas course management system to destroy/delete old copies of non-current syllabi. Yet, syllabi are documents that individual faculty might prefer to retain longer or permanently as references for other courses. And, I generally believe syllabi have historical value and should be kept, both in faculty papers as well as in department and center records.

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Portrait, UK Choral Activities Director Sara Holroyd, 1980. Courtesy University of Kentucky Special Collections Research Center.

Another example: In 1966, UK Choral Activities Director Sara Holroyd was denied tenure, first with no reason given and then, the reason given was because she didn’t have a Ph.D. This had not been a requirement in granting tenure in the Department of Music up to that point. She instituted a grievance procedure and eventually obtained tenure. In her papers are her personal copies of correspondence, reports, and memoranda relating to the grievance, which, when combined with Board of Trustees meeting minutes and student newspaper editorials, provide multiple viewpoints on the actions of individual faculty and administrators. According to the schedule, grievance files (series U0644) should be retained for three years after the case is resolved and then destroyed, which I would argue is appropriate for the “official copies” held in the Office of Faculty Advancement. However, when individual faculty keep documents relating to their own grievance actions, they can prove to be of significant historical value in documenting the actions of faculty activists both within the university and in communities outside the institution (which can often look like insubordination or improper behavior at the time) and the responses of administrators (from which the university as a whole can learn).

It seems to me that college and university archivists that collect faculty papers at public institutions in states with public record laws need to have the flexibility to appraise individual faculty papers using both the legally approved records schedule as well as other criteria. So far, I have used three concurrent approaches in my own appraisal. First, in Kentucky, the model records schedule doesn’t include series for “traditional products of scholarly activity.” According to an existing UK administrative regulation about intellectual property produced by UK faculty, staff, or students using university resources, scholarly products include publications, articles, reviews, works of art, and course materials. In this regulation, the university claims ownership and control over all intellectual property, but makes an exception for scholarly products. I take this to mean that individual faculty can dispose of their writings, artwork, and course material as they choose.

Second, in Kentucky, while records must be retained for the retention period outlined in the schedule, disposition isn’t mandatory. There are no legal penalties for not destroying records, but, of course, there are other risks, primarily of having to produce records for legal discovery.

The option of keeping records past the retention period makes possible the third approach: considering faculty to be “capstone officials,” a selection process developed by the National Archives and Records Administration in 2016. Each governmental unit goes through an approval process to determine which of their senior officials are capstone. These officials are generally responsible for agency and program policy- and mission-related actions. Once each official is approved, the National Archives will accept transfer of all the individual’s e-mail, rather than attempt to review it for various record types with differing retention periods. The “capstone officials” concept responds to a 2011 Presidential directive to manage email in an accessible, electronic format by 2016 while also balancing the sheer volume of email records; the risks of keeping temporary records too long and inappropriately discarding permanent records; and the significant records management support and training required to manage e-mail across an institution or agency. I believe that faculty meet the criteria of “senior officials,” because they set educational policy within individual departments and units, while the University (faculty) Senate as a group establishes academic policies for the university. The “faculty as capstone officials” concept allows varying and/or permanent retention of individual faculty papers by considering each individual’s role rather that the record types represented in the collection.

One final piece I’m thinking about: Since a reason for collecting faculty papers is to clarify, expand, and/or fill in gaps in the university’s official records (Mayer, 1992; Laver, 2003), faculty papers could even be solicited based in the extent to which individual faculty have been involved in protests, activism, community outreach/service, and social justice—actions that often get people in trouble with administrators and resource allocators and which are often not documented. Thus, expanding appraisal beyond the schedule and broadening selection criteria is one way in which college and university archivists can also be archival activists.

But, expanding beyond the legally mandated schedule can be risky, too, and, I haven’t pushed very hard on this myself, yet. What do you think? Questions for discussion at the section meeting:

  • Do you have a records schedule? If so, how have you applied it/do you think a records schedule could be applied to faculty papers?
  • Is the nature of the faculty role and the governance structure of the college and university fundamentally different from other organizations that also use records schedules as management and selection tools?
  • Are faculty “capstone officials?”
  • What are the risks and benefits to the college or university, to the archives, to the archivist, and to the faculty person in encouraging faculty to keep certain records longer than their retention periods?

Ruth Bryan, CA, is University Archivist in the Special Collections Research Center, a division of the University of Kentucky Libraries. She holds an MA in cultural anthropology from The New School for Social Research and MA in public history from North Carolina State University.

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