At first glance, English professor Joseph Valente looks the part of a disheveled police officer, hardened by years of grotesque images and murderous aftermath implanted into his memory. He sports a long pea coat and bowler cap, with tufts of hair spurting down the sides of his ears and a bushy moustache that owns most of his upper lip.
Many of Valente's students would say he is a caring professor, passionate for Irish literature and his students. Those who call him father or husband know a different yet strangely similar side of him. Valente is only in his second year of teaching at UB.
His impact, however, has not taken long to grasp student attention.
"The man is brilliant; he's the smartest professor I've ever been taught by," said Stephanie O'Bryan, a senior English major. "I've watched him scare students by yelling at them because he's so involved in what he's talking about and he cares about it so much. I wake up in the morning and it's the only thing that gets me to campus because I'm so excited about his class. It's so interesting."
O'Bryan, who said Valente is "over the top educationally but in the best way possible," has taken the four classes taught by Valente through the four semesters that Valente has been at UB.
During the week, Valente can be found teaching small classrooms of students who wait anxiously for discussion of the day's material.
"I've never been as excited to attend a class and read as much as this in my life," said Andy Borchik, a senior English major who has also taken all four classes offered by Valente. "His way of going about teaching is you realize not only how significant the class itself is and what he's willing to give to you, but he's also willing to hear what you have to say."
For some students who spend most of their time as just a number in a lecture hall, a professor who is willing to listen to their opinions is refreshing. Rather than just sitting and receiving direction, he takes the time to listen to the students' opinions on the lecture topics, according to Borchik.
Valente has earned the title of James Joyce scholar. This is a title that is only awarded to those who do a lot of hard work and have a dedication to the field of literature.
"There are only about 10 [English authors] whose body of work is either large enough or rich enough or complicated enough that you can be a scholar," Valente said. "You are really zeroing in on one body of work that repays that focus by its richness or complexity."
This was a major honor to Valente, not only because of the prestige of the title, but because Joyce is one of Valente's favorite authors. He adores Joyce's "stream of consciousness" style in the novel Ulysses.
Besides being a James Joyce scholar, Valente is a decorated author himself. Having written three books so far, he has also published around 50 articles and edited a couple of collections of essays as well.
"The book that I published last year is the best thing I ever did," Valente said. "It's called The Myth of Manliness in Irish National Culture. It's the best thing I ever did – you know what, it's the best thing I'm ever going to do."
His ability to critique works of literature and his honesty are what he thinks helped him mold his career. As a young boy he dreamed of playing center field for the New York Yankees, a dream that would never come to fruition.
Up until he was in graduate school he wanted to be a construction worker. He was content with working a blue-collar job.
As he grew older, however, his late father, who was a lawyer, inspired Valente to look into law. The idea of becoming a constitutional lawyer was always an option for Valente, but it never fully came to be.
Above all else Valente considers himself a family-oriented man. He has a wife and a 13-year-old son who loves zoology. Every summer Valente and his wife take their son to various animal parks across the country.
"I want him to go to college. I want him to get married," Valente said. "He goes to college, he gets married, I'm totally satisfied with my life. Not only have I done what I wanted to do, I've done what I needed to do."
Valente has enjoyed his time at UB and plans on teaching here for many years to come.
"I like the students here tremendously, I really do," Valente said. "They seem more curious, they seem more invested and I just like them."
His enthusiasm and literary intellect does not go unnoticed. Several students show their appreciation for him through a Facebook group that is solely dedicated to talking about how great of a professor he is.
"I would just say that English major or not, everybody deserves to take a class with this man because it's going to change the way you look at college," O'Bryan said. "It's going to change the way you learn."