Urgent: save those emails

Do we need to preserve Vice-Chancellors’ emails?

A diverting essay in Inside Higher Ed has a call for the preservation of presidential email:
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…boards of trustees should act – with a sense of urgency. They might begin by appointing a task force, composed of professional historians, lawyers, board members, and administrators, to recommend procedures for an independent review of the correspondence of presidents and provosts. Although a mandate that all communications should reside in library archives might have a chilling effect on email exchanges and boost the telephone bills of academic leaders, it should be considered as well. Equally important, boards of trustees should set aside funds for the review – and for cataloging presidential and provostial papers having just completed a history of Cornell from 1940 to the present, co-authored with my colleague Isaac Kramnick, I can attest to the massive challenges posed by uncataloged collections, which contain millions of documents.

In addition to making possible more accurate institutional histories, complete and accessible presidential “papers” might well help sitting presidents facing tough decisions, by allowing them to understand what their predecessors considered, said and did in similar situations.

So should universities do this? And is it really as urgent as this essay suggests? I don’t think so. There is a strong case to be made for better records retention in universities but to focus exclusively on vice-chancellors’ or presidents’ emails would seem to me to be too narrow a take. And surely they get as much nonsense and spam as everyone else?

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