Task force to examine records management, retention practices
U-M launched an ambitious initiative in fall 2011 to improve universitywide records management and retention policies. A five-member task force was appointed with a goal of presenting a business case for a campuswide records-management program to a group of executive sponsors by July 31.
U-M has significant stewardship responsibilities related to the millions of records it generates annually. This stewardship has operational, administrative, legal and historical components.
The task force has defined several key components of a successful records-management policy and program. These include:
• To ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations, promote operational efficiency, and manage institutional risk by specifying requirements and standards for the consistent management of records across the university.
• To identify and effectively communicate mandatory and desired standards of practice with appropriate monitoring for compliance.
• To preserve U-M historical records and legacy for future generations of scholars and researchers.
The executive sponsors of the task force include: Francis Blouin Jr., director of the Bentley Historical Library; Laura Patterson, chief information officer; Suellyn Scarnecchia, vice president and general counsel; and Carol Senneff, executive director of University Audits.
Clarifying what constitutes a university record while accounting for different document types and formats will be a key issue to be considered by the task force. All campuses and the U-M Health System are included within the scope of the project.
"Examining all the disparate records management practices and retention schedules across campus makes sense as part of the larger initiative to thoughtfully increase efficiencies and reduce administrative costs," says Senneff, whose staff of auditors has a particularly good window by which to observe many different ways in which units retain and retrieve critical records. "We look to the task force to come forward with innovative ideas that will significantly improve our preservation of records while at the same time decreasing administrative effort to maintain those records."
The task force currently is in an information-gathering phase, seeking input from many departments and units as to how they currently maintain records and analyzing best practices at other U.S. campuses and large institutions. It also is seeking input from campus on a draft document recommending a policy approach to U-M records management.
Patterson notes that over many years, U-M has incorporated a variety of requirements and institutional expectations related to records, with no consistent definition even of what a record is. The task force has identified more than a dozen largely unconnected or coordinated Standard Practice Guide (SPG) policies that deal with records and record retention. Most of these policies have not been reviewed or revised in years.
A key goal of the records management initiative is to revise and consolidate the SPGs, with the ultimate outcome to provide guidance to campus units that will result in more systematic, consistent and effective records management.
"We know that many units retain records much longer than needed because of the lack of clear guidance," Patterson says.
"Our hope," Blouin says, "is that it will become more commonplace for staff — especially those involved in major administrative, research, academic, clinical, and teaching initiatives — to view records as a critical institutional asset and resource that, when maintained properly, support the preservation of and chronicle U-M's historical legacy."
The task force will solicit community input from all parts of campus prior to the development of its final report and recommendations.