October 25, 2021

Steve Everett (Credit: Alex Irklievski)

Composing, conducting, and creating music may seem unrelated to being a provost, but Steve Everett, a musician and music scholar who became provost and senior vice president of the CUNY Graduate Center in August 2021, finds many similarities. 

Everett’s career as a musician, which has focused on discovering new ways to create sound and how sound functions in different cultures, has, he says, “gone far outside of the traditional field of music into social science, computer science, engineering, and recently into medicine where there's a lot of applications of sound to different chronic illnesses, particularly epilepsy.” He adds, “I call myself a musician, but actually what I do is much more. I think that's very common today, where more and more people are finding their skill sets can be applied in wider fields of knowledge. And I think that's what’s great about the Graduate Center. It has a real interest in interdisciplinarity, which has been my life.”

A few months after starting his new role, Everett described his priorities and vision for the Graduate Center, his passion for music, and how conducting opera prepared him to be the chief academic officer. 

The Graduate Center: To start, what does a provost do? 

Everett: Provosts tend to be more internally focused on the activities around the core academic mission of the university. Education, research, and service are the three main ingredients. On the education side, are we creating the best opportunities for students to learn? I'm looking at the curriculum and is it attracting students to us? Is our curriculum valuable for students? Is it going to give them the ability to sustain successful lives, successful careers? Today with COVID, how do online modalities work with in-person modalities? Which kind of learning goals can you accomplish in each? 

On the research side, is the institution providing the infrastructure and resources to support research? Do we have the right sponsored research support? And where are the resources for doing research?

I have a larger sense that as institutions, our role is to give service back to society. We're not here just to take from society. We're here to generate new knowledge that can benefit society. That's what I love about the Graduate Center, that it has a great history in that area. 

For me, a good provost is someone who really understands that the power of the institution comes from the faculty, students, and the staff. If I'm doing my job right, I'm making sure that I'm empowering the community to be successful. You have to be able to listen a lot, understand people's desires, their goals, their challenges, and try to alleviate those challenges. Every day I'm amazed at what's going on here, the passion and belief in the CUNY mission, and that's a great thing to discover.

GC: Is there a connection between conducting and being a provost?

Everett: I think that conducting is very good training for being in this job, particularly the eight or 10 years that I conducted opera because opera is probably the most complex of all the art forms. Your star singers are on stage and they're the ones everyone's listening to, and your job is to make sure they are highlighted the best they can be. As a conductor in opera, I'm down in the pit. Nobody sees me, which is good. But I've got 100 orchestra members following me. I've got chorus, dancers, and singers and that idea of balancing multiple functions and making them all work together into a collective whole.

GC: Two prominent issues for the Graduate Center are diversity and funding for graduate students. How are you addressing them? 

Everett: I've never been at a place that had enough resources. You have to be creative about how you use the resources you get, and then also be creative about how you generate new resources. 

President Garrell and I have been talking about ways that we can start to build a stronger case for CUNY to provide more support for our students. A lot of that has to do with what the benefit of doctoral education is to the state legislatures, to CUNY Central. There's a lot of important narrative that needs to be highlighted. Doctoral students teach a huge percentage of the CUNY students. We're feeding back into part of the CUNY mission by focusing on education. Our students who go out and are successful as leaders in their fields of work, that leadership is the workforce development advantage.

We need to be making sure that we're trying to find ideas that will empower our communities to thrive. And those ideas require that we look at the diversity of communities. We're now seeing in the mechanism of a metropolis like New York that everything is interconnected. The scientific study of climate and water and energy is so connected to the idea of diversity and social inequities and race and cultural changes. To me what's exciting about having a place like the Graduate Center is that we should be one of the primary tools for the city's evolution. I want to make sure that we find a way to make the city use us as partners in that equation.

GC: When you started your doctoral work, what did you imagine you would be doing? 

Everett: My undergraduate degree was in music history, and then I did my master’s in music theory and performance, my doctorate in composition. For me, music has been this fascinating field of human experience. When I went for my doctorate, I chose the University of Illinois because it was known as the birthplace of computer music study. Eventually, I found myself getting into the digital tools being used in live performance. And today it's, can the computer be a model that allows people to interact with sound in ways they couldn't without the technology? I'm working with having an EEG on the brain that picks up brainwaves. People can think of a melody, and it can translate that into the computer and actually play a composition. It allows for people with disabilities to be involved with music who wouldn't otherwise be able to. The ultimate fascinating question is why is sound so critical for us as a species? It's a bonding phenomenon throughout all species. I wanted to go to an environment where those sorts of broad-based questions were examined. I still am interested in those questions of why music has had such a powerful impact on human existence.

GC: What’s on your playlist?

Everett: I am interested in music that attempts to express new and more meaningful potentials of the human experience. I conducted a professional chamber ensemble for 20 years that specialized in the latest modern contemporary music.

What's so fascinating about the arts is that you get to travel geographically and chronologically by listening to other work. I love the idea of what people express. It's their creativity. It's their thoughts, and their thoughts are embedded into that society. That's what's fascinating. 

Published by the Office of Communications and Marketing.