Walk into any room 204 on the Yale campus, and there’s a good chance that you will find a Charney teaching class. All three members of the Charney family are teaching at Yale College this semester, and all three have been assigned to teach in various room 204s across campus.
“At first, Jim was assigned to LC 204, Noah was assigned to Trumbull 204, and I was also assigned to LC 204,” said Diane Charney, who has been teaching French at Yale for almost 30 years, while her husband James has been teaching the seminar “Psychopathology in Film” for about 15 years. Their only son, Noah, joined them at the University for the first time this semester to teach a Trumbull college seminar, “Art Crime.”
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When Diane Charney complained about her own rooming arrangement in Linsly-Chittenden Hall — “I like to teach in a room that doesn’t have a huge table between me and my victims,” she said — the registrar’s office initially tried to relocate her class to another room 204, she said.
Many faculty couples teach at the University, and many more faculty children matriculate at Yale, but it is less common to find an entire family teaching at the College. While Diane Charney admitted that she wanted to break “out of the room 204 mold,” none of the Charneys are complaining about living and working together. After all, just as their academic specialities — in languages, film, psychology and art crime — rarely merge, the Charney family hardly get a chance to share a meal together at the end of their busy days.
One by one, each member of the Charney found a different niche in Yale College’s Blue Book.
In 1976, the married couple decided to move from Hawaii to New Haven so James Charney could take up a teaching position at Yale School of Medicine while developing his own private family psychiatry practice. Working at Yale, Diane Charney explained, allowed her husband to be closer to his family, originally from Brooklyn, N.Y.
At that time, Diane Charney said she taught at a small, independent school and spent two years as president of the Center for Independent Study. It was from this position that she was hired by Yale as a French professor in 1984. Today, she is also an English writing tutor at Timothy Dwight College.
It was not until the mid-1990s that James Charney began regularly teaching “Psychopathology in Film,” which, in past years, has attracted up to 180 students vying for 20 spots.
While both Charneys work with small groups of students, Adrienne Ronai ’06 SOM ’09, who had Diane Charney as a writing tutor in TD and was a student in James Charney’s film class, said it is easy to pinpoint the difference in their teaching styles.
“They are both lovely people,” she said. “But James is a lot calmer. Diane is very bubbly and enthusiastic. Based on my interactions with them, I would say that they probably complement each other well.”
Passionate about languages, film and art, the Charneys came full circle when Noah Charney returned home from Europe to teach his seminar on art crime.
“Although I have to say,” Diane Charney quipped, “that our dog, Murray Di Medici Charney, is a little jealous. He’s thinking of teaching his own class next semester.”
Inside their 1907 house in the East Rock neighborhood, each Charney commandeers a different room in the house for work. Noah Charney and his wife, Urksa Charney, take over the TV room, Diane works in the study, and James Charney occupies the kitchen.
“At first, I was a little worried that we would be stepping all over each other,” said James Charney, who has the calm and cool demeanor of a movie psychiatrist. “But it’s actually been a delight.”
His wife agreed that she is thrilled to have her son and his wife live in their home. “When you only have one child, he gets to be the be-all and end-all,” she said.
But Noah Charney does not seem to suffocate from too much parental coddling. In fact, he said, working in the United States is almost like vacation, because for him, “real life is over in Europe,” where he studied and worked for six years. He said he has especially enjoyed showing his new wife around the city where he grew up and introducing her to old friends.
“I chose to teach at Yale because I’ve grown up in its midst, admiring it and feeling a sense of awe at the tradition and quality of the University,” explained Noah Charney, who at age 29 has founded the world’s first Master’s in Art Crime program; written a best-selling novel, “The Art Thief”; and founded ARCA, a nonprofit think tank dedicated to researching crimes against art. On top of being a visiting lecturer at Yale, he is involved in the development of two upcoming TV shows, tentatively entitled “Tomb Raiders” and “The Secret History of Art.”
And his parents seem to have more in store for their son during his time at home: “Oh boy, am I ever waiting for grandkids. I sincerely hope that for sometime during this sojourn … in our home, we get some grandkids growing,” James Charney said. “And I know Diane is too.”