Student Experience and Engagement Team | Sep 03,2020

Interview With Dr William Painter

Dr. William Painter is a visionary and inspirational leader in the field of transnational provisioning of higher and post-secondary education. Since 1988, he has been active in international private and public post-secondary and higher education.

Dr. William Painter
Dean
Westford Education Group
8 MIN READ

Dr. Painter has worked with leading Business schools such as Groupe Ecole Superieure de Commerce, NCC Education, Laureate Online Education as International Director and later assumed the role of Chief Academic Officer for the University of Liverpool/Laureate partnership

This pandemic has been a great change in the life of everybody, everyone has been affected enormously. Such great changes come with new understandings and insights about things around you and life in general. Anything new insights for you?

Well, it is funny because when you imagine such a thing, you imagine that people would pull together and help each other get through this crisis. What I learned is that there are many selfish people who chose not to wear masks or did not believe that the virus was real and did not care to take precautions. Due to their callousness, the pandemic is still raging here in the USA. Schools have opened and all the children are packed into closed classrooms. It is scary. It is going to get worse and people are still not wearing masks. They are willing to be a mechanism for infecting people they do not even know.

Nobody WANTS to wear a mask but we do so because it is our duty to help our communities. They often say, “I just want my life back,” but don’t we all? Now, I think that some folks are indifferent about causing harm to others. They lack empathy.

The positive thing was that we spent time with our families.

What do you think could be the reason for this lack of empathy?

I don’t know you well, but if you ask me, “William, can you help me?” I would do all that I could. I think that is a normal response and an adaptive one. Maybe these people who lack empathy are afraid. People do terrible things out of fear. If they are afraid to admit that there is a virus that can kill millions, then wearing a mask is an admission of that reality. Maybe they cannot handle it. I would like to think that this is the case and not just selfishness. I was taught to believe that human life is sacred, so I have a hard time understanding people who do not think that way. My son is almost 13 and he always wears a mask of his own choice. He gets it.

Most of your life you have worked in the Education sector. Any particular reason you chose this profession?

I was raised in an academic family. My father was a professor and so was my mother. My brother has a Ph.D. in Philosophy, so I really grew up on university campuses in an academic ambience.

But I was rebellious, like all young men I think, and I worked in mental health for years. I worked with developmentally disabled adult males who were violent and we employed Skinner to reduce their rates of assault and self-abuse. But at the end of the day, I could only reach a few people so I went back to school because I knew that education can change people’s lives.

I got into transnational education because we can transform entire communities by offering affordable access to higher education. It sounds like a tagline from the Marketing Department but it is true and I deeply believe it.

I created an international Master of Public Health program for the University of Liverpool. I am very proud of it as I know that those students would save lives because of the education imparted in that program, lives of people I will never meet. The senior staff at Westford have a similar vision: it is not about making money; it is about changing lives. It is what gets me out of bed in the morning and keeps me working late at night.

I could only reach a few people so I went back to school because I knew that education can change people’s lives.

I got into transnational education because we can transform entire communities by offering affordable access to higher education. It sounds like a tagline from the Marketing Department but it is true and I deeply believe it.

So, you basically chose to live for society? Did it come with any trade-offs?

Well, I think we were created for a reason, otherwise our lives have no meaning. I mean, what are we? Just animals that eat and sleep and buy new cars? I think we are meant to help uplift others, each in our own way according to our talents and capacity. Maybe it is a spiritual thing, I don’t know. I do know that changing lives makes all our lives vastly better.

Sure, lots of trade-offs. You have to be careful; I have to be careful, not to lose ourselves in the furtherance of others. We need to strike a balance.

I will give you examples. I was reading about a man in banking and he created these micro-loans for women because women take care of resources and apparently men just drink them up. And these women create businesses that hire people. Not huge businesses, but local ones and these micro-loans make that possible. That is what I call a banker! I am not a fan of bankers but here is this fellow who used his talents to really make a difference

I think we are meant to help uplift others, each in our own way according to our talents and capacity.

What are you reading these days?

Right now, I am reading Who Do We Choose to Be by Margaret Wheatley. It is about ethical leadership. We could do with a lot more ethical leadership. We teach leaders at Westford and this book is a good approach to teaching leaders not just the mechanics of organizations, but how to be warriors for the human spirit.

I love poetry. It is a uniquely human activity. We can read the same poem and come away with very different insights. We should probably teach more of the arts in our business classes to be honest. Knowledge of the arts can lead to radical change and innovation. I love the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke.

What we mostly teach in business is “how”. How to do accounting or how to manage change. These are all “how” questions. But we really need leaders to ask why and why not. Dee Hock created the world of credit cards in international banking. He turned Visa into an international brand. He had this vision because he read about art, history, political science, economics, science, philosophy, poetry — anything and everything, without paying the slightest attention to disciplinary boundaries.

Today, Visa is a trillion-dollar industry all because this man applied the teachings of Lao Tse, Thomas Jefferson, and Adam Smith. None of those writers have anything at all to do with business. That is how arts can change the way you think about something. If you make your career a work of art, you will find yourself doing things you did not expect to be doing. Art = vision, creation, communication, and lots of sweat

What we mostly teach in business is “how”. How to do accounting or how to manage change. These are all “how” questions. But we really need leaders to ask why and why not.

How can you make your career into a work of art?

Well, take some time to open yourself up to art, poetry, literature, plastic arts like sculpture and painting. Try to understand the relationship between vision, imagination, and execution. Stop being a drone working for money. Be a change agent. Find your vision and execute it. I spend at least one day each week submerged in art.

The ancient thinkers believed that art was divinely inspired. That it was the gods speaking to us through artists. It can inspire, it can repel, it can give you hope and cause despair. And you will come away a changed person.

So, in general, anything that inspired you lately?

I am inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement right now. It has given rise to great changes and almost an awakening about racism. It has made us more human. So many young people are taking to the streets to defend black Americans. Racism is like a virus that infects us all to some degree and BLM makes us conscious of it.

I think anything that brings us closer together is what we desperately need now.
We expect women and people of colour to lead our organizations. Did you know that in the countries that have women leaders the virus was contained more quickly?

Not that men are horrible, but women understand how things work differently.
And it is the diversity in leadership that helped those countries suppress the virus: an openness to new ideas from different people. It is the old crowd-sourcing issue: you need a diverse crowd to maximize the benefit of crowd-sourcing.

Any advice or suggestions for the students who will be reading your interview?

Keep at it, even when it feels impossible. It will be worth the effort. Realize that what you are learning can change yourself and those around you and change is never easy. Education is not about mere training; it is about leading yourself out of darkness. It is a journey and sometimes it is pleasant and sometimes not so much, but the journey itself is where the real value is. Graduation is simply recognition of your efforts on the path to knowledge and self-discovery.