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Poli-Sci professor inspiring...just don't touch his hat

Staff Writer

Published: Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Updated: Tuesday, May 4, 2010 00:05

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Megan Breene/Contributing Photographer

Professor Richard Aliano is a fixture outside Horton Hall.

The man walks into class with his beige trench coat, sunglasses despite the overcast day, a fedora hat and a half-smoked, unlit cigar in the corner of his mouth.

He is late again.

As students stare, he slides off the fedora to reveal his sleek-black, full head of hair. He removes the cigar, brushes it with his forefinger, and drops it in the pocket of his button-up shirt.

"Hello-o-o. As many of you may already know, my name is Professor Aliano. I only have a couple rules in my classroom. Number one, don't touch my hat. Number two, don't touch my cigar. If you follow these rules we'll get along just fine."

He is political science professor Richard Aliano, who hasn't just brought his thick New York accent to the University of New Hampshire campus, but his casual attitude, raw humor and his fast-thinking abilities that come from years in a courtroom.

Before class, Aliano can be found, cigar in mouth, under the large Oak tree in front of Horton Hall – a recognizable image that has made him the center of speculation since his arrival at the university in January 2002.

Since the age of 10, Aliano's parents had brought him to New England to vacation. The fresh air, lack of traffic and tall mountains intrigued him, but it was the state motto that sold him on New Hampshire.

"Do I want to go to Vacationland? Nah, I want to go to live free or die," Aliano said about his decision to move to the Granite State. "I've always loved northern New England and I always knew that eventually I'd move here."

In class, with his blunt, city-mannered, lawyerly humor, Aliano jokes about being divorced, about the "knuckleheads out there" whom he has encountered in the New York court system and gives plenty of outrageous examples of cases he's worked on or heard of, "so the students will hopefully remember better," said Aliano, who is teaching Law and Society, Politics and Society and Courts and Public Policy this semester.

He paces the stage in room 218 of the Paul Creative Arts Center – occasionally placing his hand in his pocket, or, when he's riled, in the air. His casual self-assurance and lawyerly lecture convey the feeling of a courtroom instead of a classroom.

As part of his classroom tactics, during a recent discussion about marriage, divorce and custody in his Law and Society class, Aliano offered up an example of law at its finest, he said, an extreme case he knew students wouldn't easily forget.

"There was this case, where a 12-year-old boy, a 12-year-old boy folks, had relations with his babysitter, who was 16 at the time. He gets her pregnant – and the court awards her child support. He can't even work yet, but you can bet, as soon as he can, it'll all be going to her," Aliano said, his voice booming, arms in the air before warning the men in the classroom, "if you choose to play, you will pay gentlemen. Trust me."

Although New Hampshire was where he wanted to be, work opportunities and family kept him in the city. The adversary life of a lawyer, he said, was never what he wanted. In fact, it was the easygoing career of a country professor that kept him motivated.

"I can be someone in front of a classroom that I'm not," Aliano said. "My friends who know me in my private life wouldn't believe the way I am in a classroom. In my private life I'm very shy and quiet. When I teach, I try not to be boring. I'm more outgoing."

It was his father, Albert Aliano, who instilled the need for a good education. Growing up in Little Italy in 1920's New York, the 13th of 14 children, Albert had to help support the family. He never completed the eighth grade.

Albert, who worked as a butcher most of his life, raised his three sons on 61st Road in Queens, N.Y. He was always telling his boys if they didn't get their education and work with their minds, they'd have to work with their hands, recalls Aliano, who learned the lesson firsthand during a college summer break.

"I remember while I was in college I worked with an air-condition repairman during school breaks, and we would have to lug heavy equipment up tiny stairwells in downtown New York in 100 degree weather," Aliano said. "And I remember one time we were working on this rich guy's air-conditioner – and by rich guy I mean he was well-educated and doing well, living in downtown Manhattan – and I remember looking at his hands. They were well-manicured and clean looking. He had never had to work a hard day in his life. Then I looked at my hands and there was dirt under my fingernails and they were grimy looking and that's when I said to myself, ‘which set of hands do I want?'"

After completing his Ph.D at the age of 26, Aliano wrote two books before the age of 30: "American Defense Policy from Eisenhower to Kennedy: The Politics of Changing Military Requirements, 1957-1961," published in 1975 and "The Crime of World Power: Politics without Government in the International System," published in 1978.

While practicing law in New York, Aliano specialized in medical malpractice cases. He had never planned on the profession but after getting his Ph.D in political science from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York he was offered a law fellowship at St. John's University; and with two brothers already practicing law "I thought: why not? At least you can make money," he said.

In 1990, he joined his brothers and opened Aliano, Aliano & Aliano law firm on Broadway in New York. Anthony, Richard and Robert practiced law for nearly a year together, and "had a blast," Aliano said, before Anthony, the eldest, was diagnosed with oral cancer.

"It was hard on both of us. It was like we had to watch him die," said Robert, who said had his older brother been a doctor, "we all would've been doctors."

In February 1992, Anthony Aliano died at the age of 51.

The combination of the death of his brother and his desire to move to New Hampshire, motivated Aliano to leave New York City and return to his "first love" – teaching.

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Tue May 24 2011 02:04
Such a great Professor,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,he is so interested in the students he teaches,,,,,,,,,and the are no
boundaries,,,,,,,,,,,,,,he is always available in his office or outside smoking a cigar,,,,,,,,,,
smartest Professor ever...............
Graduating Poli Sci girl
Wed May 5 2010 20:33
I only took one class with Professor Aliano- his 700 level course Courts and Public Policy- and it was easily one of the best classes I took in Poli Sci department. I was afraid at first that the class would be a lot to take on, though after a while I found myself very excited to go to class (which as well all know, doesn't happen too often). Aliano is one of those rare, genuine professors who really helps you learn more than what the assignments and textbooks seem to provide. Great article - I'll miss seeing him smokin' his cigar outside Horton.
Tue May 4 2010 17:33
This is easily the best article featured in TNH this year... just as Aliano is the best professor at UNH.
Tue May 4 2010 16:36
Nice article-- My favorite professor at UNH so far.

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