St. Petersburg College President Bill Law’s announcement Tuesday that he plans to resign no later than July 1 caught people by surprise.
Jim Olliver, the retired provost of SPC’s Seminole campus, said the college has a protocol when someone of that level decides to leave. That protocol includes a prepared press release and photo that can be issued right after the announcement.
In Law’s case, college officials were left scrambling after his announcement during the Board of Trustees meeting. First, faculty and staff were emailed the information as press releases were prepared and sent to local media. Then, students were told – usually students are told after faculty members hear the news and before the media.
Olliver said he went to the Seminole campus for lunch and the news was all anyone could talk about. Olliver has known Law since the 1970s when they were in school together. Law has not confided in him the reasons for leaving after six and a half years at SPC, but Olliver said he made the assumption that, at 68, Law wants to retire. So, “I sent him a quick text, ‘Congratulations! You are going to love retirement and all the best.’”
Olliver, who worked under Law before his own retirement, said Law had always been a “real go-getter” who was known as a real champion of workforce programs and keeping kids focused on what they wanted to do in life so they didn’t waste time while in school. Law was equally dedicated to seeing that kids managed to stay in school and complete their degrees by providing academic support.
“The college will miss him,” Olliver said.
Richard Mercadante, president of the SPC Faculty Senate, said no one expected the news. Law, he said, was a good leader who had allowed the faculty to have a strong voice and advocated better salaries and benefits.
“I was very surprised and saddened by the announcement, “ Mercadante said. “I’ll be sorry to see him go.”
Those were sentiments echoed across Pinellas on Tuesday.
Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch was a member of the SPC Board of Trustees that voted to hire Law.
“It was such a huge asset for St. Petersburg College and Pinellas County [when he came on board]. I’m sorry to hear he’s leaving,” Welch said. “He was a great leader for St. Petersburg College. Wow. That is a huge loss for our community.”
Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Michael Grego also praised Law’s leadership, saying, “Dr. Law is an exceptional educational leader. The collaboration of Pinellas County Schools and St. Petersburg College results in so many students succeeding in post-secondary education. I consider Dr. Law a professional colleague, but more importantly, he is a friend. His exemplary leadership has advanced our community through expanded educational opportunities for students.”
State Rep. Larry Ahern said Law was often in Tallahassee advocating for the college and for education in front of various legislative committees.
“I think he’s just taken what was a really good college and taken it to the next level,” Ahern said. “He’s a great guy. We’ll miss him.”
Ahern noted that Law had helped make SPC an important part of the community, not least because he had expanded the college’s footprint, such as the marine science center.
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman released a statement saying Law had served students and St. Petersburg well:
“I am sorry to hear our partner, President Bill Law, will be leaving St. Petersburg College. Under his leadership, SPC has been recognized nationally for improving student outcomes and providing equal opportunities to higher education. Dr. Law has invested heavily in the city of St. Petersburg, and we have seen the impact of that investment in places like the new SPC Midtown Campus, and at their downtown campus across from Williams Park. I thank Dr. Law for his service to our community and wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”
Law came to SPC in 2010. During his tenure, he has received extensive praise from board members who extended his contract through June 30, 2018, a year later than the date of his planned departure. He is earning $330,000 a year.