Shaking Up Higher Ed: College of Idaho Co-Presidents Redefine the Job


On April 2, the College of Idaho inaugurated not one but two new presidents: Jim Everett, College of Idaho swim coach and former CEO of the Treasure Valley YMCA, and Doug Brigham, former president of TitleOne Corporation. The decision to hire two for the job followed a unanimous and historic vote by C of I trustees. The fact that hiring co-presidents is a first in the school's 127-year history—in almost any university's history—is not lost on Everett and Brigham.

Speaking to the co-presidents, it's clear their shared position requires them to remain on a visibly (and audibly) united front. They not only share a title, but a compensation package and a house on campus. But don't worry—with the class of 2018 approaching its Saturday, May 19, graduation date, Brigham assures that "just because there's two of us doesn't mean the speeches will be twice as long."

Three's a Crowd, Two's a Presidency
While still a novel concept, the idea of two presidents sharing a single position isn't entirely unheard-of. As Inside Higher Ed reported in June 2016, two presidents preside over St. John's College campuses—one in Annapolis, Maryland, and the other in Santa Fe, New Mexico—but Everett, for his part, is quick to clarify they "don't propose this model for everybody." Brigham is credited with bringing the option of a co-presidency to the table.

"[The presidency] is a big job," he said. "I kept thinking about it, and one of us alone could easily get buried. By the time you come up for air, it's three years later and you really haven't moved along some of the key initiatives. The real driver was: How can we accomplish more in less time? As soon as I started thinking about it that way, I can tell you—this is the absolute truth—there was only one person I ever thought about, and that was Jim."

Brigham had worked with Everett before on behalf of the college, and recognized his passion for the school and his ability to be a team-builder, someone who brings people together to accomplish a shared mission.

"Somebody else could have called me, and I would have said, 'Thank you, but I don't think it's a great idea,'" Everett said. "[Doug] is brilliant. His business mind is fantastic, his judgment, his ethics. He's just a genuinely kind human being. He's doing this for all the right reasons, and I like to think I am too. No one gets stuff done trying to go out and do it themselves. We hope that model of collaboration is spread."

Presidents who Set the Precedent
The C of I co-presidents are driven by collaboration, but that's not to say a single president's tenure can't be an accomplished one. Take Boise State University President Bob Kustra, who announced in November he would retire in June 2018.

During his presidency, BSU launched some $450 million in construction projects, and built the Environmental Research Building, the Micron Business and Economics Building, and the Norco Building for nursing and health sciences. Plus, when the Kustra-led fundraising campaign, Destination Distinction, ended in 2011, it had outraised its $175 million goal.

But to compare the two Treasure Valley schools is to compare apples and oranges. Kustra has been in charge at Boise State for 15 years. Meanwhile, the College of Idaho graduating class of 2018 has seen no fewer than five presidents in four years.

Together, Brigham and Everett see their co-presidency as a partnership, giving the school "two presidents in two places at one time." It's not a president/vice-president combination or a president/CEO relationship; instead, the two see themselves as working on a level field.

"Anytime there's a hierarchy, we think you lose the magic of it," said Everett. "We think about the demands of this job, and it's a huge job to do it right."

Brigham was quick to agree, saying, "We're both very adamant that whatever we're going to do here, it's going to be accomplished as a team, and it's going to be a shared vision with faculty and staff and alums and ourselves."

Brigham and Everett don't come from traditional academic backgrounds, but from business and nonprofit circles, respectively. Still, Brigham said he hasn't heard any opposition to the partnership.

"You would naturally expect folks in higher ed, in general, to pull back and say, 'I'm not sure how this is going to work,'" Brigham said. "We know those opinions are out there, but the good thing about what we've found at the college is, even if somebody has questions about the model or is skeptical about it, they're still passionate about the college. Everybody agrees we need to have the College of Idaho be great and be here for the next 127 years."

What's Begun, and What's Next
As the College of Idaho prepares to end the school year, Brigham and Everett are already gearing up for the next one. As always, change is a big part of the campus culture, not just with presidential faces but with the adoption of the PEAK curriculum in 2010, the revival of a football program in 2014 (after a 37-year hiatus) and most recently, the completion of the Cruzen-Murray Library this past January.

As Everett puts it, they're practicing MBWA, or "management by wandering around"—a method the two can see is resonating. While boosting enrollment and fundraising will be a major focus for the co-presidents, they remain committed to connecting with current students.

"It's so neat to watch Jim on campus," Brigham said. "He seemingly knows everybody. He knows them by name, knows their background, knows their story, and I can see how well that resonates on the campus."

As a team, Brigham and Everett spent the last month getting more acquainted with the issues important to students—one student brought up pet-friendly housing, for instance.

"We want to be known as Jim and Doug as much as we can," Everett said. "Some of the students we sat with today said, 'Oh, you're the co-presidents!' Hopefully, next time we meet them, it won't be, 'You're the presidents.' It'll be, 'You're Doug, and you're Jim.'"

The House Off College Avenue
While Everett and Brigham won't be sharing an office, there was one matter in particular to settle when they both took he job: the 50-year-old president's house on the corner of South 20th Avenue and Everett Street in Caldwell. Brigham and Everett are rotating through the property weekly, rather than sharing it as traditional housemates. Still, that raised some questions:

Let's break it down. How many bedrooms and bathrooms, and how much square footage are we talking?

Everett: It's bigger than we thought. It has four bedrooms, probably four bathrooms, maybe 2,400 square feet. There's a nice basement I don't think any of us have spent any time in.

Will your spouses join you?

Brigham: We're both empty-nesters, so the family consists of spouses and [adult] children. They'll be over here. They enjoy it.

Which of you would be more likely to start a chore chart?

Everett: Doug would probably have a better list or have one more organized.

Brigham: I did have to sweep out the garage after Jim had the place the first week.

What's your top roommate pet peeve?

Everett: I had a college roommate who was very tidy. He would make my bed. Believe it or not, I didn't like that.

What items did you, or will you, bring to the house?

Everett: The place didn't come with a TV, and we're not sure we miss that. We noticed there are no utensils, but we're mostly eating in the cafeteria anyway.

Brigham: I brought a coffee maker. But between the two of us, Jim will bring the healthy food, and I'll bring the cookies.

What's been the biggest challenge of being colleagues-turned-co-presidents?

Everett: We're very optimistic about the whole thing, but the biggest challenge we've had so far is [when we were hired], I got the purple folder and Doug got the yellow folder. He wanted the purple folder and I didn't give it to him. Maybe next year as a gift he'll get the purple folder.