Berkeley offers credit for ‘Pokemon Academy,’ ‘Marvel,’ and ‘Hogwarts’ classes

Experts from the National Association of Scholars and American Council of Trustees and Alumni weighed in on the matter to Campus Reform.

A University of California, Berkeley program features student-run courses on Harry Potter, Marvel, and a variety of other subjects, for credit.

Students in the Pokémon course will need to draw a picture of themselves as a “trainer” alongside their favorite Pokemon and design their own card for the trading card game.

A University of California, Berkeley program featuring student-run courses is offering students the chance to study Pokémon, Hogwarts, and the Marvel comics universe while receiving upward of two credits toward their degrees.

The DeCal program, a student-run course program offered by the university, allows students to create their own classes on any subject that they choose to study. The program boasts more than 150 semesterly courses, in which 3,000 to 4,000 UC Berkeley students typically enroll.

“The responsibility of such courses rests on the department chair, faculty member, and student facilitator, who all sign a contract of understanding before the DeCal is reviewed by [the Committee on Courses of Instruction] / the Academic Senate,” the program says on its “About” page. “Grades are only offered as Pass / No Pass, and the academic credit for each class typically range from 0.5-2 units.”

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One such course that students at DeCal are offering to their peers is a “Cal Pokémon Academy” course that offers two course units upon completion. The course will cover the history of the franchise, which includes marketing, popular media, as well as the games themselves.

“We also discuss social issues within the Pokéverse, then delve into the theoretical science behind your favorite creatures.” the course description says.

According to the syllabus, a copy of which Campus Reform obtained, students will need to draw a picture of themselves as a “trainer” alongside their favorite Pokémon, design their own card for the trading card game, create a recruitment ad for a “villainous” team, and create a parody of one of the franchise’s song.

The DeCal program also offers a course called “UC Marvel Cinematic Universe,” which explores the world of Marvel, while watching and examining certain Marvel movies, focusing on the “character development, business models, and marketing strategies” of the franchise. The course counts as a Psych 198 class and offers one course unit.

“Students should be able to see the movies and point out the various social, ethical, political and economic themes that are highlighted within them,” the course description’s section on learning outcomes reads. “They should be able to critically analyze MCU’s presence and relevance in the modern world.”

One April 22 event on Facebook associated with the course advertised “two hours of heated debate and discussions” regarding the Avengers: Infinity War movie.

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A third class being offered, “UC Hogwarts: The Wonderful Wizarding World of Harry Potter,” focuses on the Harry Potter book series and why it is “so compelling to generations of readers and what has made it the best-selling book series of all time.”

The class will focus on topics within the series such as “the history of magic, witchcraft and wizardry, social hierarchies and the role of race in culture...the role of government and corruption, concentration on authoritarianism,” among other topics. The class will also feature activities such as “wandmaking” and “Horcrux hunting.”

David Randall, director of research for the National Association of Scholars, told Campus Reform that UC Berkeley is creating a “moral hazard” by giving course credit to student-created courses. He went on to comment that there are “equivalently lightweight” regular course offerings at universities, providing an article from the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal about graphic novels in English courses.

Johnathan Pidluzny, director of academic affairs for the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, told Campus Reform, “we see this all across the country and often they are faculty-led courses.”

Pidluzny referenced a class being hosted at Gettysburg College called“An Atomic Lizard, A Robot Boy, Pocket Monsters and Some Very Cute Kitties: Japanese Popular Culture Goes Global.”

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“We see a lot of courses about vampires, zombies, Harry Potter all the time. These often fill general literature requirements,” Pidluzny told Campus Reform. “Instead of challenging them, universities are giving them a lollipop.”

Pidluzny also stated that similar courses, such as the ones being offered at Berkeley, are being used to fill literary requirements, and that the faculty is “trying to be popular with the students” and not challenging them in the process, leading to a standards issue, and as a result, a lack of skills when students leave college. 

He noted that to make room for the new curriculum, universities are ditching Shakesphere in favor of popular reading.

“No one goes to the gym, stands around and expects their muscles to grow,” Pidluzny said. “We want to hold universities accountable and shine a light on the universities that are failing their students.”

The instructors of the Marvel course and Harry Potter courses did not respond in time for publication. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @JesseStiller3