A lifetime of love for Binghamton
Michael McGoff retires after more than 53 years as student and administrator
Few people have been actively involved with the Binghamton University community for as long as Michael McGoff ’69, MA ’74, PhD ’80, has.
McGoff’s journey with Binghamton spans more than 53 years, beginning with his time as an undergraduate student and culminating in his role as senior vice provost and chief financial officer of the University.
“I’m a very lucky guy,” says McGoff, who retired earlier this year. “But it’s time.”
Reflecting on a prolific career, McGoff reminisced about Binghamton University’s growth and the part he played in it.
McGoff’s roots in the Binghamton area run deep. His grandparents came from Ireland in the early 1900s to work at the Endicott-Johnson Shoe Company, and his father was a Binghamton police officer. The eldest of nine children, McGoff started his college career at what is now known as SUNY Broome before enrolling at Binghamton University.
“I had a number of interests that ranged from anthropology to psychology, but I finally settled on linguistics. I fell in love with onomastics,” he says.
His interest in the field of onomastics, which explores the history of how things are named, led McGoff to study languages including Old English, Middle English, Old High German, French, Latin and Old Norse.
Working as a research associate in what was then-Binghamton University’s School of Advanced Technology (SAT), his interest in language merged with his interest in technology.
“I began to study computer languages early on, when people were still using punch cards,” he says. His PhD dissertation, Computer-Oriented Onomastics, was a “wedding” of his dual interests.
McGoff began taking on more responsibilities in SAT, eventually working his way up into the dean’s office. Originally thinking he was going to teach, he discovered an interest in behind-the-scenes work.
“I found that I was attracted to administration. I like making things happen,” he says. “Instead of standing in front of a class, I wanted to help other people do well standing in front of a class.”
While temporarily acting dean of SAT in 1982, McGoff helped oversee the school’s transition into the Thomas J. Watson School (now College) of Engineering and Applied Science. He’d stay with Watson for nearly two more decades, becoming associate dean.
“My heart is still in Watson,” he says. “To see it grow from SAT to the Watson School to Watson College has been great.”
In 2000, McGoff moved to the Office of the Provost, helping to oversee the entire University.
“I had worked closely with the other associate deans and administrators around campus, and had a pretty good understanding of how their schools worked. The familiarity really helped as I transitioned into this broader role,” he says.
In his new post as chief financial officer, McGoff became responsible for all of the business and financial functions within the University, including long-term and annual enrollment and revenue projections. This information helped guide the University’s strategies and investments.
“I’ve always been a proponent of linking planning and budgeting, and using assessments to guide decisions,” he says.
Citing examples such as the new Health Sciences Campus in Johnson City, a growing student body and the initiatives laid out in the University’s Road Map to Premier strategic plan, McGoff says Binghamton has a reputation for making big plans and investing in them.
“We put our money where our mouth is, and it’s helped us grow at an impressive pace,” he says.
McGoff may be best known to young alumni as the person who reads the names of most graduates during annual Commencement ceremonies, a role he fell into simply by volunteering.
“I have had more adventures and fun things happen because I raised my hand and offered to help out,” he says. “Volunteering is a great way to learn new things.”
With his background in linguistics, McGoff believed he could make an impact on the ceremonies.
“It is an important day in the lives of our graduates, and their families are there,” he says. “We owe it to them to get their names right. It’s very important.”
With around 5,000 names to read over the course of Commencement weekend, McGoff occasionally consults with students if he has questions about pronunciation. And the secret to keeping his voice fresh for the entire weekend: pineapple.
“I’m a big opera fan, and my opera friends recommend eating raw pineapple to help soothe a sore throat,” he says. “Pineapple is what gets me from one Commencement ceremony to the next!”
As for what’s next, McGoff says he plans to stay connected to the University. He hopes to travel with his wife — artist and musician Donna Pylypciw — once the pandemic is over.
“She’s had a huge role to play in all of this,” McGoff says. “I never would have even finished my dissertation if it wasn’t for her taking care of simply everything — from the dishes to the garbage to proofreading and editing my writing. I worked all day at the University, and at night on the dissertation.”
A lifelong resident of the Binghamton area, and a longtime staff donor to the University, McGoff says there are many things that kept him here.
“We stayed for our families, but also the community,” he says. “This area is extraordinary. We live in a bucolic setting, and yet we have been able to enjoy operas, ballets, string quartets and art. Culturally, the area has been fantastic. In the final analysis, I love this University.”
As he cleaned out his office of 20 years in the Couper Administration Building, McGoff says it was difficult not to feel nostalgic.
“I was looking through letters I had written almost 40 years ago and was reminded of all of these projects I had once worked on,” he says. “And all I kept thinking was: ‘Wow, I was involved in that?’ Looking back on it all now — it’s just amazing.”
McGoff says retirement has given him a chance to fully realize how much Binghamton University has grown during his time on campus.
“It’s just like looking in the mirror. I didn’t notice all of a sudden my hair became gray, I just got used to it,” he says with a laugh. “When it’s a gradual change, it’s never surprising. But now, as I look back, it is amazing what has happened here.”
And the secret ingredient to Binghamton University’s success?
“It’s the people,” McGoff says. “We do a fantastic job of educating students, and we do it with quality. It’s always the people.”