In a video recently posted online, incoming LSU freshman Drew Dollar yells, “I hate n*****s.” Because of Dollar’s hate speech, many LSU students are pressuring the administration to withdraw Dollar’s admission.

My sense is that the LSU administration is currently in a lose-lose situation. On the one hand, if they refuse to withdraw Dollar’s admission, then they will (understandably) infuriate many members of the LSU community. On the other hand, if they agree to withdraw Dollar’s admission, then they will likely face a lawsuit from Dollar and invite accusations of censorship and thought control.

Dollar certainly has a First Amendment right to engage in hate speech; Louisiana may not imprison him for it. But it does not follow that Dollar has a constitutional right to attend LSU. The reason is that LSU also has rights, including the right to maintain a comfortable, tolerant learning environment.

Still, if LSU withdrew Dollar’s admission, and if Dollar sued LSU in response, it is not obvious that LSU would win. The reason is that the First Amendment prevents the state from engaging in “viewpoint discrimination” — that is, favoring some political viewpoints over others. Because LSU is a state institution, it may not favor Republicans over Democrats or Democrats over Republicans. By the same token, it may not favor or oppose extreme or radical ideologies like fascism or neo-Nazism. If an LSU student wished to promote such ideologies, the First Amendment would prevent LSU from suspending or expelling him (provided he satisfied all constitutionally permitted time, place, and manner restrictions).

Suppose, then, that LSU withdraws Dollar’s admission. Dollar might very plausibly argue that LSU is engaging in impermissible viewpoint discrimination; that his statement about hating “all n*****s” was nothing more than a bombastic, but First-Amendment-protected, expression of a political viewpoint (white supremacy). But LSU might very plausibly respond that Dollar’s racist outburst was not a mere expression of a political viewpoint but rather hate speech and therefore outside the scope of First Amendment protection.

This legal debate would be enlightening, but my guess is that the LSU administration strongly prefers to resolve this matter without resorting to litigation. So I predict that LSU will uphold Dollar’s admission on the condition that he issue a sincere public apology for his offensive words and engage in productive conversations about race, racism, and diversity with people of color at LSU. I also predict — and hope — that Dollar will not only comply with this ultimatum but also learn from these conversations. This is, after all, the principal goal of higher education.


LSU law professor

Baton Rouge

Day after LSU's bungled response to racist video: An apology and meeting with black student leaders