The two stools seem a bit out of place in a lobby full of comfortable chairs and rushing students. But the banner behind them explains their presence: "Dr. Bill Law's Listening Post St. Petersburg College."
Law, his chairs and banner are making the rounds of the SPC campuses. He plops the stools down, sits and waits for someone — student, employee, professor, anyone — to take the vacant one. Then he listens.
"It helps me understand what it looks like on the front line," Law said.
The listening post, he said, is a variation of his "management by walking around," a tactic he used when he headed a single campus. In those days, he'd set aside some time so he could regularly wander around the campus to say hello to people and to talk.
"The president is, in every case, enigmatic," Law said. Being visible and accessible are two ways to counteract problems of remoteness.
With seven campuses and 30,000 students, Law said it was impossible to walk regularly. Instead, he decided to go to each campus for a few hours and see what he'd find out if he let people talk.
No topic is barred. Compliments. Problems. Complaints. Suggestions. Opinions. All are welcomed.
The listening post appears to be popular, with lines forming to speak with him.
"Everyone thinks you're going to get a lengthy list of complaints," he said.
But that's not so. Law said he gets mostly positive feedback and constructive criticism. In most cases, he said, the criticism or complaints are things the college should take care of.
Also big on agendas, he said, are upwardly mobile midlevel employees and professors.
"That's a healthy thing," he said. And, Law said, it indicates that SPC needs to have a stronger leadership development program in place for employees.
On a recent morning at the Seminole campus, the conversations began with Law putting folks at ease. He talked with one about jogging — Law, 62, still runs. He asked how teachers' and students' classes were going. Law suggested to one student that he look at business programs at other colleges to make sure he found the program and place that best suited him. After looking around, Law said, come back and go to SPC.
The topics broached to him varied widely.
He fielded concerns from several professors about a new way of scheduling classes. Law has said he wants to make it easier for students to get into classes. In the past, classes were canceled if not enough students signed up for them. Under Law, once the class is scheduled, it will stand, no matter how few students enroll.
"You hear a lot of 'Bill says,' " Law told one professor. "This is a 'Bill says.' "
Law acknowledged that holding classes with just a few students might not make the best fiscal sense. But it does make the best academic sense and, he said, it's how programs are built.
Law also heard Doug Brozek of Seminole, an adjunct instructor, suggest integrating the digital media course with the music program.
Law suggested Brozek send him an e-mail to explain his idea further. He promised to give the idea consideration.
"It's a very reasonable request," Law said, "so give me a chance to work on it. We'll see where it goes."
Law was president of Tallahassee Community College when he was named SPC president in April to succeed longtime president Carl Kuttler. He found himself offering lots of reassurance to employees who feared the changes he will bring.
"It's a long trail but I know what trail we want to be on," he said at one point.
Student Victor Burianek, 20, said he dropped by "just to meet" the new president. The listening post, he said, was a great idea.
Albert Shamro, president of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, stopped by to ask Law for funding for a convention in Seattle. Law told him it was a good idea.
"He's a nice guy," Shamro said. "He really cares about the student."
Reach Anne Lindberg at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.