The University of Illinois is trying to protect its faculty from “trolling.”
A proposed resolution would ban students from enrolling in a professor’s class “if the student has displayed a previous history of persistent trolling.” There are exceptions to this proposed rule. The ban only would stand if the course is an elective — one you do not need for graduation.
Unsure a bit of what trolling actually is — we looked it up on the internet. The Urban Dictionary and Lifewire defined trolling as the act of making random or outrageous comments on social or electronic media, hoping to provoke a knee-jerk reaction. Trolling might include cursing, name calling and “causing trouble.”
In the particular case, a University of Illinois professor of media and cinema was a critic of Chief Illiniwek. Chief was discontinued by the university a dozen years ago. Nonetheless, a student electronically argued with the professor. The professor’s response is to potentially cut off the student.
Move beyond the issue of the Chief. Can students and professors debate the war in Afghanistan, the minimum wage, health care or any one of a thousand other issues?
What constitutes offensive speech? Do we ban, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”? Who gets to decide what issues can and cannot be discussed? Is writing a letter freer than posting a comment?
We live in times when the First Amendment is in retreat, attacked by extremes from both sides, people who would rather not hear any argument and somehow construe that as progress.
If free speech only is protected when it is popular, when it is convenient and when it is inoffensive, it is not very free at all.