Harvard University Records Policies

The University developed a set of policies governing the care and management of its records that evolved over the years that are articulated in a series of Harvard Corporation votes.

University Records Definition

The Harvard Corporation defines a University record as “recorded information, regardless of physical form regardless of physical characteristics, created, received, recorded, or legally filed in the course of University business.” University records are subject to the rules set out in records schedules, including the General Records Schedule.

Electronic Records

Records management policies apply to records “regardless of physical characteristics” and make particular mention of “electronic records, including electronic mail,” according to the 1995 vote of the Corporation. For guidance on managing electronic records, see Electronic Records/E-mail.


University records belong to the University and not to any individual or administrative part of the University.  Specifically, the Corporation maintains that University records “are the property of the University and not of the officers, faculty members, or employees who create them or to whom they are entrusted.”  Individuals are entrusted with their custody and are expected to manage them appropriately.

Management of Records

The University Archives is charged with the responsibility of ensuring “the prudent maintenance and efficient disposition of University records, consistent with sound archival standards, budgetary considerations, and legal obligations.”  In part, the Archives does this by creating “general record procedures and retention schedules” and “special record procedures and retention schedules necessary to preserve exceptional records or to accommodate unusual circumstances” in consultation with relevant University authorities.  The Archives also works with records management programs at the medical and business schools “to ensure that the objectives of the University's record management program are met.”

Records Disposal

In simple terms, disposal means either destroying records or transferring them to the appropriate archives.  The Corporation provides that records may not “be destroyed or otherwise disposed of except in accordance with procedures and schedules established by the University Archives.”  It is critical to remember, however, that records may not be destroyed if they are related to any current or anticipated investigation, legal action or proceeding, litigation, audit, or program review.  If such an activity is even being considered, all records destruction activities must be suspended.  This supersedes any requirements in records schedules.  In the event of such activity, please contact the Office of General Counsel.

Historical Records

In 1939, the Corporation established more modern, official archives and instructed, “all administrative officers of the University” that “[a]ll archive material, when no longer wanted in the office to which it pertains, shall be sent to the University Archives.”    A subsequent Corporation vote provided that “[f]aculties and other units may establish individual archives.”  The two major units to have done so are the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Medical School (for Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, and Harvard School of Public Health).

Access to Records

Once University records have come into the Archives collection, records that were not originally made public are restricted for a period of time to ensure the privacy of individuals and to protect the organization’s ability to conduct business.  The relevant Corporation vote provides that “the Curator of the University Archives may with the approval of the head of the University department or division concerned authorize access to records less than fifty years old (or records concerning individuals that are less than eighty years old).”