Daniel O'Connor/Photo Editor BU President C. Peter Magrath speaks at a press conference on Oct. 20, 2011 about a $1 million grant the Academy for Korean Studies gave to BU. Magrath will retire on Dec. 31.

C. Peter Magrath will retire from Binghamton University on Dec. 31 this year at the age of 78, capping a 50-year career in higher education that he began as a political science instructor at Brown University in 1961. BU held a ceremony to honor Magrath on his retirement from 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 6 in the Old Union Hall.

Hundreds of people, including faculty, staff, administrators, students and local politicians, attended the ceremony.

More than a half-dozen gave speeches in Magrath’s honor, including Interim Provost Jean-Pierre Mileur; James Van Voorst, vice president for administration; Kathryn Grant Madigan, chair of the BU Council; Richard Lee, professor of sociology and chair of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee; Tom Libous, New York State senator for the district that encompasses Binghamton; Ronald Ehrenberg, member of the SUNY Board of Trustees; and Kevin McCabe, regional representative for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, according to a Binghamton University press release.

Magrath is stepping down from office to make way for his successor, Harvey Stenger Jr., currently the interim provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University at Buffalo. SUNY and BU announced that Stenger would succeed Magrath on Nov. 22.

Magrath was both the third and sixth president in BU’s history. He served as president of the University from 1972 to 1974, before he moved onto other jobs, including heading up the University of Minnesota, the University of Missouri System, the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges and serving as a senior presidential adviser for the College Board.

He returned to BU as interim president on July 1, 2010, following the retirement of Lois DeFleur after her nearly 20 years in office as BU president.

Originally set to serve only one year through the end of the spring 2011 semester while the BU Council searched for DeFleur’s permanent successor, Magrath was asked by SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher to stay on for an extra semester when the presidential search process stalled in the spring.

During his most recent 17-plus months at BU, Magrath has signed Memorandums of Understanding with several foreign universities to set up academic and research partnerships and exchange programs, and appointed a new athletic director for the University.

He also served on the Southern Tier Economic Development Council and lobbied for increased funding for BU through NYSUNY 2020 and Gov. Cuomo’s Challenge Grant program.