But the report gets off to a bad start when its authors allow the charge by conservative critics that left-wing instructors indoctrinate rather than teach to dictate their strategy. By taking it as their task to respond to what they consider a partisan attack, they set themselves up to perform as partisans in return, and that is exactly what they end up doing.

Not right away, however. They begin well by rejecting the idea that instructors must refrain from teaching, as fact, a point of view that others in the field do not accept. “It is not indoctrination,” they explain, “when, as a result of their research and study, instructors assert to their students that in their view particular propositions are true, even if these propositions are controversial within a discipline.” That’s a roundabout way of saying, if you think it’s true and you can back up your judgment with reasons and evidence, teach it as true and don’t worry about any obligation to include contrary views just because they’re out there.

The name usually given to that obligation is “balance,” the idea “that an instructor should impartially engage all potentially relevant points of view.” But as the subcommittee points out, in every discipline there will be viewpoints “so intrinsically intertwined with the current state” of the field that it would be “unprofessional to slight or ignore them.” And conversely, there will be view points so marginal to the field that it would be unprofessional to accord them equal time.

The key word here is “unprofessional,” for it signals that the subcommittee is refusing the requirement of balance (which is a statistical not a normative standard) in favor of the requirement that instructors be alert to the judgments and evaluations of their peers. The enterprise, the subcommittee is saying, belongs to those who labor within it, and choices as to what approaches should be covered in a course should be made by informed practitioners and not by an abstraction. The obligation is not to present everything, but to “present all aspects of a subject matter that professional standards would require to be presented.”

So far, so good. But the report takes a wrong turn when the contextual criterion of “professional standards” is replaced by the abstract criterion of “connectedness” (the left’s version of “balance”). In response to the Students for Academic Freedom’s insistence that professors “should not be making statements … about George Bush if the class is not on contemporary American presidents,” the subcommittee offers this grand, and empty, pronouncement: “[A]ll knowledge can be connected to all other knowledge.” But if the test for bringing a piece of “knowledge” into the classroom is the possibility of connecting it to the course’s ostensible subject, nothing will ever fail it, and the only limitation on the topics that can be introduced will be the instructor’s ingenuity.

My point is made for me by the subcommittee when it proposes a hypothetical as a counterexample to the stricture laid down by the Students for Academic Freedom: “Might not a teacher of nineteenth-century American literature, taking up ‘Moby Dick,’ a subject having nothing to do with the presidency, ask the class to consider whether any parallel between President George W. Bush and Captain Ahab could be pursued for insight into Melville’s novel?”

But with what motive would the teacher initiate such a discussion? If you look at commentaries on “Moby Dick,” you will find Ahab characterized as inflexible, monomaniacal, demonic, rigid, obsessed and dictatorial. What you don’t find are words like generous, kind, caring, cosmopolitan, tolerant, far-seeing and wise. Thus the invitation to consider parallels between Ahab and Bush is really an invitation to introduce into the classroom (and by the back door) the negative views of George Bush held by many academics.

If the intention were, as claimed, to produce insight into Melville’s character, there are plenty of candidates in literature for possible parallels – Milton’s Satan, Marlowe’s Faust, Byron’s Cain, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Shakespeare’s Iago, Jack London’s Wolf Larsen, to name a few. Nor would it have been any better if an instructor had invited students to find parallels between George Bush and Aeneas, or Henry the Fifth, or Atticus Finch, for then the effect would have been to politicize teaching from the other (pro-Bush) direction.

By offering this example, the report’s authors validate the very accusation they are trying to fend off, the accusation that the academy’s leftward tilt spills over into the classroom. No longer writing for the American Association of University Professors, the subcommittee is instead writing for the American Association of University Professors Who Hate George Bush (admittedly a large group). Why do its members not see that? Because once again they reason from an abstract theoretical formulation to a conclusion about what instructors can properly do.

The theoretical formulation is borrowed from an association report of 1948: “[E]xperienced teachers realize that it is neither possible nor desirable to exclude rigidly all controversial subjects.” That’s right, but it doesn’t follow from the impossibility of excluding controversial subjects (another too general truth) that those subjects can appropriately be the vehicles of indoctrination once they are brought in.

In fact, whether or not a subject matter is controversial is beside the point. Any subject – pornography, pedophilia, genocide, scatology – can be introduced into an academic discussion so long as the perspective from which it is analyzed is academic and not political. Like their counterparts on the right who complain endlessly about the presence of Karl Marx on many reading lists, the authors of the report fail to understand the all-important distinction between the political content of an issue and teaching that content politically. The first is inevitable and blameless; the second is a dereliction of professional duty.

Nor will the Bush-Ahab example be saved by invoking (as the subcommittee does) an instructor’s freedom “to stimulate classroom discussion and thought.” To be sure, stimulation is perfectly fine in a classroom, but not stimulation of any old kind. Taking off one’s clothes or throwing things at students would surely produce stimulation, but no one would argue that it was academically appropriate to do so. And neither is it appropriate to encourage Bush-bashing in the guise of elaborating a “parallel.” As for encouraging “critical thought by drawing analogies” (another of the subcommittee’s justifications), the point is the same: it depends on what the analogies are and in what direction – academic or political – drawing them pushes students.

The report ends on a good note when it warns against the attempts of outside constituencies to monitor classroom performance: “We ought to learn from history that education cannot possibly thrive in an atmosphere of state-encouraged suspicion.” Unfortunately at least one section of this report serves only to justify that suspicion.

The good news is that this it is only a draft and comments are welcome at the association’s website. The association now has mine.