Higher Learning Commission


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HLC Board of Trustees

The Board deliberates on and decides the official action on all recommendations for institutions placed on notice or probation and their removal from such status, withdrawal of affiliation, and application for initial candidacy or initial accreditation, and request for change of institutional control, structure, or organization. The Board issues and removes all show-cause orders. When the Board decides on an official action, it does so by majority vote of those attending a meeting and eligible to vote.

Board of Trustees


Dr. Cheryl Johnson-Odim, Provost Emerita and Professor of History, Dominican University

Johnson Odim 2017Dr. Cheryl Johnson-Odim is Provost Emerita and Professor of History at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois. Her prior experience includes Professor of History and Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Columbia College Chicago and Chairperson of the History Department and Professor of History at Loyola University Chicago. She has also taught at the University of Wisconsin Madison. Dr. Johnson-Odim holds a B.A. (cum laude) from Youngstown State University and a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University; she was also a Fulbright Fellow in Nigeria. She has served on the boards of the American Council of Learned Societies, the African Studies Association, and the Illinois Humanities Council, among a number of other organizations. She is author or co-author of three books and numerous chapters in books and articles in scholarly journals.

Vice Chair

Dr. Joanne M. Burrows, S.C., President, Clarke University

Burrows2015Sister Joanne Burrows became the 15th president of Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa, in July 2006. Throughout her presidency, she has been instrumental in helping the institution clarify its future vision and implement steps to achieve it. Prior to joining the Clarke University community, Burrows served as the chief academic officer of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in Indiana, in various roles at Indiana State University, and in positions at Holy Names College in California and College of Mount St. Joseph in Ohio. She holds a Ph.D. in higher education from The Ohio State University, an M.A. in theology from the Graduate Theological Union and Jesuit School of Theology, and a B.S. in graphic design from University of Maryland, College Park.


Dr. David R. Anderson, President, Saint Olaf College

Anderson2015Dr. David Anderson serves as the 11th president of his alma mater, St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Founded in 1874 by Norwegian Lutheran immigrants, St. Olaf is a nationally ranked residential liberal arts college of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, distinctive both for its academic excellence and its history of educational innovation. Dr. Anderson previously served as Provost, Denison University; Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College, Luther College; Professor and Chair, Department of English, Florida Atlantic University; Associate Professor of English, Texas A&M University; Post-doctoral Fellow, University of Kansas; and Assistant Professor of English, St. Olaf College. Dr. Anderson holds a B.A. from St. Olaf College and a Ph.D. from Boston College.

Ms. Dana Boke, Mayor, Spearfish, South Dakota

Dana BokeDana Boke was elected as mayor of the City of Spearfish, South Dakota, in 2013. In her position, she not only oversees the operations of the local municipality, but serves on various local, regional and statewide boards and committees of economic development, public transportation and workforce development. She is highly involved with South Dakota state legislation, serving on the governmental policy committee of the South Dakota Municipal League, where she advocates for local municipalities. Ms. Boke and her husband own three technology-based corporations providing information technology, digital marketing and management consulting services to commercial enterprises and non-profits. She has also served as a South Dakota licensed realtor, and she previously worked as bank manager overseeing three Wells Fargo branches. She earned a B.S in Business Administration from Black Hills State University in Spearfish.

Dr. Rita Hartung Cheng, President, Northern Arizona University

Cheng2015Dr. Rita Hartung Cheng became the 16th President of Northern Arizona University in August 2014. Since her arrival, she has set forth a vision of excellence in education through affordability and accessibility, student-centered teaching, a robust research environment, and inclusive support services focused on success measured through retention and graduation rates. NAU recorded its highest student enrollment in history in the fall of 2015. Dr. Cheng served as Chancellor of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and was a professor of accounting from 2010 to 2014. She also spent 22 years in teaching and administrative roles at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, including five years as Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. She earned her Ph.D. in management from Temple University’s Fox School of Business and Management, an M.B.A. from the University of Rhode Island and a bachelor of business administration with honors from Bishop’s University in Quebec.

Dr. Michael R. Chipps, President, Northeast Community College

Chipps2015Dr. Michael Chipps is the president of Northeast Community College in Norfolk, Nebraska, and previously served as president for Mid-Plains Community College in North Platte, Nebraska. Prior to these presidencies, he served as vice-president and chief executive officer of North Platte Community College in Nebraska and held multiple instructional, student affairs, and administrative positions in Central Community College in Nebraska. He holds a Ph.D. in Educational Administration, Curriculum, and Instruction with a specialization in Management of Colleges and Universities from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. He also holds a M.S. in Education with a specialization in Counseling from the University of Nebraska at Kearney and a B.S. in Education with a major in Sociology and a minor in Psychology from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. In addition, Dr. Chipps served 21 years in the United States Army Reserve and retired as a Major in 1995.

Ms. Christine Downey-Schmidt, Former Kansas State Senator and Former Member, Kansas Board of Regents

Downey Schmidt2015A public member of the Board, Christine Downey-Schmidt served on the Kansas Board of Regents from 2005 to June 2013. She was a member of the Board’s Academic Affairs, CEO Assessment, and Fiscal Affairs Committees, and served as Chair from 2007-2008 and as Vice Chair from 2006-2007. A former Kansas State Senator, Ms. Downey-Schmidt was elected to three four-year terms, serving from 1992 to 2004. As a State Senator, she served as the Ranking Minority Member of the Ways and Means, Education, and Agriculture Committees. In addition, she taught for 20 years in the public education system and served as an adjunct professor for seven years at Bethel College in North Newton. She received a B.A. in Elementary Education and an M.S. in Education Administration and Supervision from Wichita State University.

Mr. Donald M. Elliman, Jr., Chancellor, University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus

Elliman2015Mr. Donald Elliman has been Chancellor of the University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus since February 2013. A long-time executive in publishing, he worked at Time Warner for 32 years, retiring as an executive vice president of Time Inc. Other positions he has held include publisher of People Magazine and president of Sports Illustrated. Most recently, Mr. Elliman was executive director of the University of Colorado School of Medicine’s Charles C. Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Biology on the Anschutz Medical Campus. He also served for two years as chief operating officer for Colorado, assisting the governor in the management of all state agencies, and as chair of the Colorado Recovery Accountability Board, with responsibilities for oversight of spending in Colorado. He has also served as director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade and as president of Ascent Sports and of Kroenke Sports Enterprises, with oversight of business activities, including The Pepsi Center, The Denver Nuggets and The Colorado Avalanche. He received a B.A. in Economics from Middlebury College.

Dr. Jacquelyn Elliott, President, Central Arizona College

Elliott2015Dr. Jacquelyn Elliott became President of Central Arizona College on July 1, 2016. She was previously the first-ever female President of North Arkansas College (Northark). At Northark, she led the development of the college’s comprehensive strategic plan and implemented the first academic, facility and information technology master plans for the institution. The planning model she developed, which Northark uses to advance improvement, has been trademarked. Prior to joining Northark, Dr. Elliott was the Vice President for Student Affairs at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville for five years. She also served as the Dean of Student Services at Barton County Community College in Kansas for 10 years. She served in various Student Affairs leadership roles at Creighton University in Nebraska for two years and Highland Community College in Kansas for five years. Dr. Elliott received her Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Administration from the University of Nebraska, her master’s degree from Fort Hays State University in Kansas, and her bachelor’s from Concordia University in Nebraska.

Dr. Noah Finkelstein, Professor of Physics, University of Colorado Boulder

Finkelstein2015Dr. Noah Finkelstein has taught in the Physics Department at the University of Colorado Boulder since 2003 and became a full professor in 2012. He serves as a director of the Physics Education Research (PER) group at Colorado, one of the largest research groups in physics education in the country. Dr. Finkelstein is also a director of the national-scale Center for STEM Learning, which has become one of eight national demonstration sites for the Association of American Universities’ STEM Education Initiative. During an NSF-supported postdoc, he formally entered the field of physics education research, through joint appointments at the UC San Diego’s Lab of Comparative Human Cognition, and UC Berkeley’s Group in Science and Mathematics Education. He has also served as a Research Consultant at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and a Research Associate and Instructor at Princeton University. Dr. Finkelstein received a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from Yale University and his Ph.D. for work in Applied Physics from Princeton University.

Brig. Gen. Cary A. Fisher, United States Air Force (retired)

Fisher2015A public member of the Board, Brigadier General Cary Fisher served as chair of the Engineering Division and Permanent Professor and Head of the Department of Engineering Mechanics at the U.S. Air Force Academy. In 1990, he directed the Academy’s preparation for the accreditation visit by the Higher Learning Commission. In 2003, he and his engineering colleagues developed the ABET-accredited Systems Engineering major, now one of the most popular engineering majors at the Air Force Academy. He is a registered professional engineer in the State of Colorado. General Fisher has also served as an engineer and program director at the Air Force Weapons Laboratory, as a weapons controller and senior director during the Southeast Asia conflict, as Chief Scientist with the European Office of Aerospace Research and Development, as a science attaché at the American Embassy in London, and as the senior United States Military Liaison Officer to the United Nations Mission in Kosovo. General Fisher earned a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Oklahoma and a master’s degree in Aeronautics from the California Institute of Technology.

Dr. Robert C. Helmer, President, Baldwin Wallace University


The ninth president of Baldwin Wallace University, Dr. Robert Helmer has established himself as a dynamic leader in higher education with demonstrated strengths in curriculum development, enrollment, campus life, fund raising, and facility development. Dr. Helmer recently served as president of Lourdes University in Ohio, and prior to that position, served as Vice President for Academic Affairs and a faculty member. Dr. Helmer also served in teaching and research capacities at Marquette University, Indiana University, and Ancilla College. He holds degrees from the University of Notre Dame and The Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, and received a Ph.D. from Marquette University as well as a J.D. from the University of Toledo.

Dr. Karla Neeley Leach, President, Western Wyoming Community College

Karla Neeley LeachDr. Karla Neeley Leach became president of Western Wyoming Community College in Rock Springs, Wyoming, in 2008. Since joining the college, Dr. Leach has led the development of the first strategic plan, collectively developed the vision statement in conjunction with all full-time employees, and added transparency and accountability measures by opening the Office of Planning and Improvement. Previously, Dr. Leach served as dean of student learning at CyFair-Lone Star College in Cypress, Texas. She was appointed as graduate faculty in the College of Education at Texas A&M University-Commerce for two years, where she taught doctoral students in the community college leadership program. For 17 years, Dr. Leach was dean of continuing and workforce education at Tarrant County College in Fort Worth, Texas. Prior to entering higher education, she worked for seven years in the business sector, including the banking, insurance, and petroleum industries. She received her doctorate of education from the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. She earned a master of business administration degree from the University of Texas at Arlington and a bachelor of science degree from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas.


Dr. Joan M. Lescinski, C.S.J., President/CEO, St. Ambrose University

Lescinski2015Sister Joan Lescinski is the 13th president of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. St. Ambrose University, founded in 1882 by the Diocese of Davenport, currently enrolls nearly 3,800 students, approximately 900 of which are at the graduate level. Currently, she is leading strategic planning and facilities master planning efforts at the University after the successful completion of a comprehensive campaign for $77 million. Lescinski also served as President of St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, the oldest Catholic liberal arts college for women in the country. Prior to that, she was Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean at Fontbonne University in Missouri; Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Avila University in Missouri; and Professor of English at the College of St. Rose in New York. Lescinski earned a doctorate in English literature from Brown University and master’s and bachelor’s degrees from the College of St. Rose. In addition, she holds certificates in Fundraising Management and Educational Management from Indiana and Harvard Universities, respectively. She is a member of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet, St. Louis, Missouri.

Dr. Robert Martin, President, Institute of American Indian Arts

Martin2015Dr. Robert Martin became President of the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) on July 1, 2007. He has led the development of a comprehensive strategic plan and a campus facilities master plan resulting in academic program expansion, growth in student enrollment, construction of four new buildings on campus and the launch of a successful capital campaign. Prior to joining the IAIA community, Dr. Martin was the Associate Head for the American Indian Studies program at the University of Arizona. He also served as President of Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque for eight years and president of Haskell Indian Nations University for ten years. Under his guidance, Haskell made the transition from junior college to a university offering baccalaureate programs. In addition, he served as the President of Tohono O’odham Community College (TOCC) in Sells, Arizona. During his tenure, TOCC achieved accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission and was designated as a 1994 Land Grant Institution by the U.S. Congress. Dr. Martin is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and received his Doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of Kansas and his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Appalachian State University.

Dr. Joseph E. Steinmetz, Chancellor, University of Arkansas

Joseph SteinmetzJoseph E. Steinmetz became the sixth chancellor of the University of Arkansas on January 1, 2016. His priorities include creating a strategic plan that reflects the collective will of the campus community, developing an enrollment plan, creating more need-based scholarships, growing graduate programs, and continuing to advance diversity across campus. Prior to this appointment, he was Ohio State’s chief academic officer. Dr. Steinmetz joined Ohio State in 2009 to serve as vice provost for arts and sciences and executive dean of the then-new College of Arts and Sciences. Before Ohio State, he was dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Kansas, where he was also a university distinguished professor. Before Kansas, he spent 19 years at Indiana University, Bloomington, where he served as Chair of the Department of Psychology, Executive Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences and a Distinguished Professor of Psychological and Brain Science. Dr. Steinmetz earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at Central Michigan University and his doctorate at Ohio University.

Dr. Gary S. Wheeler, President Emeritus, Glen Oaks Community College, and Professor of Higher Education, Ferris State University

Wheeler2015Dr. Gary Wheeler is President Emeritus of Glen Oaks Community College in Michigan; Professor Emeritus of Miami University in Ohio. Currently teaching in the Community College Leadership program at Ferris State University, he has had a variety of roles in the Higher Learning Commission Peer Review Corps and chaired many on-site evaluations. He also served on various committees and task forces for the Commission. Dr. Wheeler’s prior experience includes President of Gogebic Community College and Senior Associate Executive Director for the Middletown Campus of Miami University. At Miami University his service also included Acting Executive Director of the Middletown Campus, Director of Continuing Education and Business & Industry Center, and Professor, American Studies and Art History Scholar-in-Residence, Center for American and World Cultures. Dr. Wheeler holds a B.F.A. from the University of Connecticut, an M.F.A. from Arizona State University, and a Ph.D. from Union Institute and University.

Dr. David A. Wissmann, Professor Emeritus and HLC Visit Coordinator, Avila University

Wissmann2015Dr. David Wissmann is Professor Emeritus and HLC Visit Coordinator at Avila University. He continues to teach courses in statistics and health care issues and focuses much of his attention on institutional effectiveness, assessment of student learning and accreditation. He has also held the positions of Professor of Sociology, Chair of the Department of Law and Justice Studies, Director of the Weekend College and Director of Alternative Programming at Avila University. Dr. Wissmann served HLC as a peer reviewer and HLC Peer Corps trainer for many years prior to his appointment to the Board. He holds a B.A. from the University of Puget Sound and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Arizona.