Managing University Records

General Records Guidelines

The following broad guidelines are intended to help Columbia University personnel manage records more effectively, retain records to meet legal, fiscal, and operational needs and requirements, and identify and preserve records with historical value. If you are interested in learning more about records management or if you have any questions about records, please contact


What to Keep

Records are documents and parts of documents contained on any media and in any format that: are created and/or received by the University; provide evidence of its operations; document business decisions; and/or have value requiring their retention either for a specific period of time or permanently. These may include:

  • Publications, annual reports, newsletters, bulletins, promotional materials for University events and programs
  • Advisory board, committee, commission, or task force materials such as agendas, minutes, reports, findings, membership lists, constitutions and by-laws
  • Policy statements and press releases
  • Course records such as proposals, syllabi, outlines, lecture notes, handouts, exams and assignments, reading lists, and other classroom materials
  • Academic program establishment and accreditation review records
  • Project and/or grant files (accepted proposals, final reports, etc.)
  • Letters, memoranda, correspondence
  • Audio, video and photographs which provide a visual record of the University and its activities
  • Floor plans and maps


For How Long

A Retention period is the length of time a record must be kept to comply with legal, fiscal, regulatory and operational needs and requirements. At the end of this period, the record can either be disposed of or, for materials with historical value, transferred to the University Archives.

Columbia has defined retention periods for financial and personnel records. A Records Retention Schedule lists the record series or records types, identifies the Office of Record and defines how long each type must be kept (e.g., eleven years after the end of the fiscal year). These are available in the Policy Library.

Columbia is in the process of defining retention periods for other administrative records. If you have any questions about how long to keep a record, or whether or not you can dispose of records, please contact the Records Manager to evaluate your records and help you make those decisions.


What NOT to Keep

Non-records are copies of records, preliminary drafts, or materials available from external or public sources. All of these can be disposed of at the discretion of the user, as long as there is no pending litigation, investigation or audit. These include:

  • Duplicates of original records: information or reference copies of records
  • Preliminary drafts including: drafts of letters, memoranda, reports
  • Worksheets, work papers, notes
  • Books or chapters of books, periodicals, articles, manuals, training binders, conference packets, newspapers, and other printed material obtained from outside sources
  • Schedules, calendars, directories, travel itineraries, driving directions, road maps, menus
  • Spam, junk mail, and listserv messages
  • Blank forms and stationery

Non-records can be important and valuable for your day-to-day operations but these only need to be kept as long as they are useful. They are not subject to any retention period.

How to Dispose of Records

Records which are subject to a document hold cannot be disposed of when litigation is ongoing, pending, threatened, or likely. Consult the Office of the General Counsel to determine whether a litigation hold is required.

Discard records that only contain public data, which means that it is information available to the general public, for example, material available on and those that are published and copyrighted. Paper records can be recycled; electronic records can be deleted and/or reformatted.

Destroy records that contain any sensitive and/or confidential information, that is, these need to be disposed of in a manner that leaves the data fully unrecoverable. Sensitive information includes Personally Identifiable Information (PII) such as date of birth, mother’s maiden name, SSN, or credit card numbers; and Personal Health Information (PHI) such as medical records or finger prints; education records protected by FERPA such as course enrollments and grades; and human resources information such as salaries and immigration status. For more information, please refer to the University's Data Classification Policy.

Paper records must be destroyed using cross-shredding. Environmental Stewardship hosts two Clean & Go Green events every year, when a shredding truck is parked on the College Walk, between Low Library and Kent Hall. For larger shredding orders, please contact the University’s preferred vendor, Shred-It, USA.

For electronic records, CUIT provides data deletion software. The easy-to-use program DBAN will wipe all data from a computer's hard drive. CUIT also has a contract in place with Keystone Information Systems for disposing of media with sensitive information (SSNs, grades, enrollment information, etc.). If you have any removable media (diskettes, CDs, thumb drives, tapes, hard drives), please contact the CUIT Network Computer Security team for secure destruction of electronic media or “electronic shredding.”  For more information about CUIT policies and available resources, please refer to the Sanitization and Disposal of Information Resources Policy.

When disposing records, be sure to keep a record of what was destroyed (record type, date range), when (date), how, and who authorized the destruction.


How to Learn More

The Records Manager is available to help you Identify, inventory and manage records; work with retention schedules and records disposition; arrange records clean-up events; and develop file plans and file-naming conventions for shared drives. When in doubt, do not destroy records. If you need any help, please contact