Administration recalls e-mail, accidentally deletes others

As the tumultuous negotiations between USF and the faculty union continue, an e-mail mistakenly released by administrators last week is still raising questions.

A version of the e-mail with the subject line “USF Board of Trustees Bargaining Update” was released Feb. 26 and included all editorial marks and a number of comments not intended to be read outside of the provost’s office.

The e-mails were then recalled, but – due to what administrators are calling a glitch – many forwarded or replied files containing the message’s title were also deleted from faculty inboxes.

This has some faculty questioning whether this is a violation of their academic freedom.

“The deletion of the e-mails of about half of the Arts and Sciences was wrong,” said associate professor of education Sherman Dorn. “It provoked an enormous amount of concern in the faculty across the University.”

According to administrators, attempts to recall the message began Monday, but since the e-mail was sent from an administrative server to the servers of various departments in the University, the usual methods of retrieval proved unsuccessful.

The ability to recall a message is open to all users, but may not work, depending on the recipient’s mail settings and the server on which the message is stored.

“In most e-mail programs like Outlook, you can ask to recall a message,” Associate Director of University Computer Systems for Arts and Sciences Craig Woolley said.

“Doing your recall in that fashion is not always successful, especially if the e-mail has gone out to many different e-mail systems external to where you sent it from. It makes the recall almost impossible.”

According to Vice Provost Dwayne Smith, when the original message was sent, the tracking function – which documents all notes and revisions to the document – was turned off. However, when the e-mail was sent across multiple servers, the function was re-enabled, revealing the disputed information.

“There were no conspiracy theories here – just Murphy’s law gone wild,” Smith said. “So many weird things happened with this e-mail that I began to feel like a character on the show Lost.”

According to Woolley, administrators from Information Technologies contacted him and told him to use a program called ExMerge, which his department had never used, to remove the remaining e-mails from the Arts and Sciences server.

However, according to Woolley, the instructions given by IT didn’t include directions concerning the default search method used to target e-mails by their title and delete them. The program was set to delete any file with the words “USF Board of Trustees Bargaining Update” anywhere in the title.

This led to the deletion of several read, forwarded and replied messages concerning the original sent by the administration.

Only those messages including the prefix RE: or FW: could be restored. However, none of the e-mails were read or opened in the process.

“We left it on the default of substring and the result of that was that it removed the replies and the forwards,” Woolley said. “(Administrators) wound up giving us the go-ahead to put back the replies and forwards on Friday. In a sense, we reversed it where we were able to search for those replies and forwards and put them back in.”

Much of the original controversy came from a line in the original leaked e-mail many faculty members feel unfairly targeted chief union negotiator Robert Welker.

However, faculty members are now concerned this sort of situation could occur again, hampering their ability to communicate with students, obtain grants and receive the peer reviews essential to the process by which tenure is awarded.

“This has turned from an immediate crisis to something that is still very important to us,” Dorn said.

According to Smith, the situation was an isolated incident and the administration regrets that it happened.

“When we initially tried to recall, we assumed the only ones that were going to come back were those that hadn’t been opened,” he said. “I don’t think anybody – and this is through various components – anticipated just the snafus we were going to start running into.”