Retention Schedule Policy

Last updated: May 19, 2020

Purpose: To provide the University of Arizona with approved records retention schedules, secure physical records storage options, and defined records destruction procedures that can be applied to all official records generated by the University (paper, digital, or any other media). At the present time, the four primary records retention schedule categories are University Management, Office Administration, Personnel Management, and Financial Records. These four categories represent the common records series codes used by a majority of the campus community. If your record type does not appear on this published list, contact Records & Archives so we may assist you in determining the proper record series code to use.

Policy Owner:

Manager, Records & Archives

Definition of a Record (Official Record; Record Copy)

The University of Arizona adheres to the definition of a record found in A.R.S. § 41-151.18.  According to this state statute, "unless the context otherwise requires, 'records' means all books, papers, maps, photographs or other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, including prints or copies of such items produced or reproduced on film or electronic media pursuant to section 41-151.16, made or received by any governmental agency in pursuance of law or in connection with the transaction of public business and preserved or appropriate for preservation by the agency or its legitimate successor as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations or other activities of the government, or because of the informational and historical value of data contained in the record, and includes records that are made confidential by statute. Library or museum materials made or acquired solely for reference or exhibition purposes, extra copies of documents preserved only for convenience of reference and stocks of publications or documents intended for sale or distribution to interested persons are not included within the definition of records as used in this article.”

Links to the state statutes associated with A.R.S. § 41-151.18:

  • A.R.S. § 41-151.16 - Production and reproduction of records by agencies of the state and political subdivisions; admissibility; violation; classification
  • A.R.S. § 41-151.15 - Preservation of public records
  • A.R.S. § 39-101 - Permanent public records; quality; storage; violation; classification
  • A.R.S. § 38-421 - Stealing, destroying, altering or secreting public record; classification

All records as defined above (paper, digital, or any other media) are the property of the Arizona Board of Regents; they are not personal property nor are they the property of a specific unit, department, or college.

As stated above, the definition of a record goes beyond only paper-based materials. In the statutory definition above, the phrase "regardless of physical form or characteristics" establishes that records include any type of electronic (digital) file or data, machine-readable outputs, emails, still photographs, motion pictures, audio recordings, charts, maps, drawings, plans, video recordings, micrographics, digitized magnetic tapes, or any other physical or digital record types. This policy applies to all university-owned records regardless of their origin or storage location, such as University offices and computers, home offices and computers, mobile devices, etc.

Departments generating or controlling original records or designated record copies of original records should note that authorized copies of a document may also have official record status just like the original if these copies serve a separate administrative purpose and are controlled a under different filing system than the original.

Departments are responsible for ensuring all their records (paper, digital, or any other media) are retained in a readable format regardless of changes in technology or equipment obsolescence. Printing out the records and saving a physical version, converting the records to microfiche, maintaining the old equipment and software applications, or migrating the records to a new technology are just a few of the options you may consider. Records designated as permanent or long-term records (having a retention period of 25 years or more) that are turned over to Records & Archives for storage must be turned over in a manner designed to tolerate the high temperatures and air quality conditions commonly found in most local warehouse storage environments.

Departments are also responsible for maintaining a detailed inventory of their records (paper, digital, or any other media) so they may locate any record they own should they be required to do so. Upon request, Records & Archives can provide departments with a list of the records boxes being stored on their behalf that includes all known information provide at the time of entry into the system. However, this information is somewhat limited and should not be relied upon for detailed inventory purposes with respect to the exact contents of each box. Regarding digital records, departments are solely responsible for the inventory and storage requirements of these records while adhering to all University policies pertaining to retention and destruction. See Digital Records for related information.

If the exact location of a record or set of records is unknown and a search of records boxes is needed to locate these records, the Records & Archives Office will do the following to assist departments with their search:

  • Provide the department with a comprehensive list of records boxes in storage along with all corresponding inventory information known to date as well as any available historical information.
  • Assist departmental personnel with interpreting the inventory information to determine which boxes are likely candidates to be searched.
  • Facilitate the removal of the records boxes to be searched from the storage facility and deliver them to a location designated by the department.
  • Retrieve the records boxes from the department once the search for the records is complete and return them to the storage facility as well as update the department’s records boxes inventory information if any items are permanently retained by the department.

Definition of a Non-Record (Reference Copy; Convenience Copy)

The University also defines certain materials as being non-records, and these non-records are normally exempt from adhering to standard records retention policies. Some common non-records include, but are not limited to, such items as library or museum materials made or acquired solely for reference or exhibition purposes, extra copies of documents preserved only for convenience of reference, or stocks of publications or documents intended for sale or distribution to interested persons. In addition, uncirculated personal drafts or notes used for informational purposes only that become obsolete when superseded or no longer needed, personal emails with no ties to official University business, or any other items that contain information but fall outside the definition of a record may also be considered non-records for retention purposes. When in doubt about correctly classifying an informational item as a non-record (for retention purposes), treat that item as an official record until the matter is clarified. Contact Records & Archives for assistance with properly determining what is a record versus what is a non-record.

  • Important exception involving certain types of convenience copies: Some physical records that go from being an official record copy to a convenience copy because the official physical record copy was replaced by an official digital record copy (the digital scan of the paper copy becomes the official copy and the paper copy turns into a convenience copy) may be required to follow special retention instructions put in place by the holders of the official digital record copies. The purpose of these retention instructions is to ensure the physical versions of the records are available during a predetermined audit period in which of the official digital record copies are inspected to ensure they are readable and accurate. Contact the holders of the official digital record copies or Records & Archives for more information regarding this exception.

Designated departmental copies or convenience copies of a record are not considered official records for retention purposes unless specifically designated as such on a retention schedule recognized by the University. Therefore, these convenience copies do not need to be retained for the same period as assigned to the original record copy or other official copy. However, convenience copies may be subject to public records requests if these copies are available. Consult with the University Public Records Coordinator for further details.

Departmental convenience copies/non-records should be kept within the department no longer than necessary for reference purposes and the period of time should never exceed the retention period of the original. Department staff can destroy non-records according to Records & Archives destruction policies without formally notifying Records & Archives. Always check to ensure there is not any type of records hold in place before destroying any records or non-records generated on behalf of the University. Treat all non-records as confidential for destruction purposes unless certain that no confidential information exists. See Destruction of Records for more information.

Records Destruction

Any records not classified as permanent records will be eligible for destruction consideration once their mandated retention periods elapse and their operational values cease to exist.

Arizona Revised Statute (A.R.S.) § 41-151.19 stipulates that official records (henceforth just "records") that no longer have any legal, administrative, fiscal, or historical value (because they fulfilled their mandated retention requirements and no longer have any other operational purpose) shall be eligible for destruction using one of two state approved document destruction methods. See Destruction of Records for more information.

  • Maintaining records past their required retention periods without cause increases liabilities for the department and incurs unnecessary storage costs for the University.
  • If physical records in storage are required to be kept past mandated retention requirements due to a legitimate operational necessity, notify Records & Archives as soon as possible to make the proper arrangements.
    • Consult with your department's leadership to discuss any liability concerns and to ensure the retention extension is justified.
    • Also consult with the Office of General Counsel (OGC), if the situation dictates, regarding any potential repercussions associated with maintaining your specific records past their required retention periods.
    • Note: Copies created for convenience or reference purposes should not be retained longer than the official record. Convenience or reference copies do not need to be reported to Records & Archives when they are destroyed given all retention and destruction guidelines are met.

Litigation and Other Holds

Departments are responsible for making sure that any records, documents, or other materials (paper, digital, or any other media) subject to a current "Litigation Hold" from the OGC, or are subject to any other type of official administrative or audit hold, are retained beyond any and all retention requirements. Failure to do so could result in the University being sanctioned in a legal proceeding. If you are unsure as to whether a Litigation Hold is currently in place, contact the OGC. Departments are also responsible for making sure there are no holds in place of any kind prior to planning or allowing the destruction of any records in their possession.

With respect to physical records being stored by Records & Archives, departments must immediately inform our office of any hold requests by providing the following details so the affected records can be properly preserved:

  • The box barcode numbers of the affected records
  • The general reason for the hold
  • The contact information of the department representative initiating the hold

For records being stored outside of Records & Archives to which a hold applies, e.g., in a digital records storage environment or other departmental records storage area, departments must make arrangements for those records to be held as well.

Conversely, departments should notify Records & Archives as soon as any holds are removed from records being stored by Records & Archives so they can resume following their normal retention plans, or so existing retention plans can be amended based on a new operational need. Please contact us for assistance with this process.

Common Retention Schedules

At the present time, the four primary records retention schedule categories are University Management, Office Administration, Personnel Management, and Financial Records. These four categories represent the common records series codes used by a majority of the campus community. If your record type does not appear on this published list, contact Records & Archives so we may assist you in determining the proper record series code to use.

Approved Common Retention Schedules