Ellen Chaffee, Interim President and CEO, AGB


Ellen Chaffee, PhD, is the interim president and CEO of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB). Her distinguished career spans institutional, system, policy, and national professional leadership in both public and private higher education, as well as extensive research and publication. Past president of two universities and two national professional associations, she has led executive, academic affairs, student affairs, research, and equal opportunity areas. She has served on and consulted with numerous governing boards as well as national organizations in higher education research, health care, allied health, and foundations.

Prior to serving as interim president, Chaffee was a senior fellow and senior consultant at AGB. Her primary role was to provide a broad range of consulting services to boards and presidents of AGB-member institutions, with over 120 engagements completed. She co-directed an AGB project on board oversight of educational quality funded by the Teagle Foundation. From 2009 to 2011, she directed Governance for Student Success, an AGB project funded by Lumina Foundation, focusing on strategic finance to help board and executive leaders deal with the impact of the emerging Great Recession.

In 2015, Chaffee launched and led a statewide academic transformation initiative for the University of Maine System, consisting primarily of discipline-based faculty teams seeking to increase quality, access, and financial sustainability.

Chaffee was president of Valley City State University for 15 years and served nine of those years simultaneously as president of Mayville State University. Her leadership developed an award-winning culture of innovation, change, and accountability. She then spent a term as President-in-Residence at Harvard University. She consulted extensively with Des Moines University and then served on its board of trustees. She also served as the public member of the American Council on Pharmaceutical Education, the accrediting body in that field.

Previous positions include eight years as academic vice chancellor for the North Dakota University System and five years as director of organizational studies at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS). As a trustee of the MeritCare Health System for eight years, Chaffee chaired the board and guided the 50/50 merger that resulted in the Sanford Health System. Chaffee began her higher education career at North Dakota State University in student affairs and equal opportunity positions for eight years.

Professional Credentials

Chaffee earned a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Kentucky, a master’s degree at North Dakota State University, and an MA and PhD in higher education administration and policy analysis at Stanford University.

Throughout her career, Chaffee has focused on leadership and organizational effectiveness, strategic thinking, organizational change, turnaround management, innovation, continuous quality improvement, accountability, decision-making, and the role of information and technology. Chaffee has published five books and dozens of articles in refereed journals, as well as 750 weekly columns in community newspapers.