David W. Tretter, President

David W. Tretter President

David W. Tretter, the fourth President of the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities, assumed that position on January 1, 2004, following his selection by the Federations Board of Directors. As the Federation President, Tretter is responsible for coordinating the state and federal public policy advocacy efforts of 57 Illinois private, non-profit, independent institutions of higher education. In addition, he serves as the key liaison to the Illinois General Assembly, K-12 and higher education agencies, and the media.

Tretter completed undergraduate work at Illinois State University, and earned a graduate degree in public administration and a certificate in public budgeting and finance from the University of Illinois. He has lectured on lobbying and state finances, and has taught as an adjunct professor of public policy at the University of Illinois. Outside the field of higher education policy, he has published numerous journal articles on the Illinois property tax system. He serves on the board of the National Association of Independent Colleges and University State Executives.

He can be reached at


Joan E. Knox Vice President of Government Relations

Joan E. Knox is Vice President of Government Relations for the Federation. Knox has close to 20 years’ experience in a variety of roles including legislation, policy, and advocacy at both the local and state levels, including 10 years in private higher education.  Her extensive political campaign and government experience includes having served as Alderman for the City of Palos Hills for 17 years.

Knox assists the President in coordinating state and federal public policy advocacy efforts for Federation members.  Previously, Ms. Knox served as Associate Vice President of Government and Community Relations at Saint Xavier University.  Her primary responsibilities included a focus on state policy issues affecting higher education, community relations issues, and general state and federal government relations.

Throughout her career, Knox has served on a number of boards involved in education and community.  Professional memberships have included the Executive Committee of America’s Urban Campus - a higher education consortium representing Chicago’s universities and colleges, the Board of Directors of the Southland Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the Planned Giving Association, the Irish American Partnership and District 230 Board of Education.  

She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree and master's degree in business administration from Saint Xavier University and is an Edgar Fellow, class of ’13.

She can be reached at


George Niehaus Dir of Ops

George V. Niehaus Director of Operations

George V. Niehaus is Director of Operations for the Federation. He manages the operational needs and structure of the agency, handles internal and external communications, and is responsible for all areas of Human Resources.  As a member of the agency’s management team, Niehaus is also responsible for providing input that guides the agency’s organizational strategic action.

With a background as a Human Resources professional, Niehaus brings experience in recruitment, staffing, compensation, benefits, employee relations, organizational design, training and development, human resource information systems (H.R.I.S.), and payroll to the Federation. Certified in Organizational Leadership, Niehaus also has the knowledge and skills to streamline processes and procedures throughout the Federation.

Throughout his career, Niehaus has been involved with many professional and community-focused organizations.  These organizations include Society for Human Resources Management, Central Illinois Society for Human Resource Management, Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, Big Brothers Big Sisters, United Way of Central Illinois, and Land of Lincoln Goodwill.

A native of Illinois, Niehaus has completed courses at Greenville University, the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and Millikin University.  He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Leadership.

He can be reached at


Donald E. Fouts President Emeritus

President of the Illinois Institute of Independent Colleges and Universities

Donald E. Fouts has a notably broad background in both public and private higher education, with expertise in state and federal policy processes, institutional relations, and program development. He currently serves as president of the Illinois Institute of Independent Colleges and Universities, a 501 C 3 organization dedicated to serving private higher education in Illinois.

Fouts served for twenty years as president of the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities, leading successful campaigns to secure government funding and help private institutions cut costs. In that post, he worked regularly with the print and electronic media, civic groups, and the corporate community. More recently, Fouts has worked to launch and direct an innovative Ed.D. Program at Benedictine University, also  an online master’s degree at McKendree University, both of which focus on meeting the needs of working adults.

Throughout his career, Fouts has been active in higher education governance at both the state and national levels, serving as board member with the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, chairman of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities State Executives, and private sector representative to the Illinois Board of Higher Education. He has also served on the Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors of State Colleges and Universities.

Fouts has additional experience as a state agency director, with responsibility for regulating private postsecondary institutions and administering adult education programs for the state of Illinois. In that capacity he developed an understanding of the management and marketing strategies utilized by the for-profit sector of higher education.

Fouts has taught and lectured at public and private universities, including Northern Illinois University, Western Illinois University, DePaul University, and the Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies at the University of Chicago.

Fouts earned his baccalaureate degree from the University of Chicago and a master’s degree and doctorate in political science from the University of Minnesota. He holds honorary doctoral degrees from MacMurray College and Benedictine University.

He can be reached at