Since 1915, the American Association of University Professors has been a paladin of academic freedom, protecting beleaguered professors against conformist demands by administrators and boards of trustees.

The AAUP has been a less formidable presence in recent years, but universities still do not want to be on its Censure List.

Recently, the AAUP issued a "Statement on the Political Correctness Controversy," which can only be called a whitewash. According to the AAUP, criticisms of "political correctness" are actually based on "an only partly concealed animosity toward equal opportunity" for "women and racial and cultural minorities on campus."

That sure exposes the base motives of the American Civil Liberties Union, a leading opponent of political correctness.

What has really been going on, says the AAUP, is only the kind of heated, cantankerous disagreements that are part of the exchange of opinions. The notion of "political correctness" as a "form of thought control ... now sweeping American campuses" is based merely and erroneously on "disconnected anecdotes."

If this report were submitted by a student, the grade would be an irredeemable F. There are no indications of who, if anybody, was interviewed. How many students, how many professors? Which campuses? And there is no evidence, however disconnected, to support the cavalier conclusions.

For 2 1/2 years, I have been interviewing students and professors across the country for a book I'm writing on assaults by orthodoxies -- right and left -- on freedom of expression. Many specific incidents of political correctness -- with names -- have been printed in this column from those interviews.

To be sure, PC is not a force on every campus, but it continues to create self-censorship among both students and some faculty members at many colleges.

One very bright young man at Brown, for example, told me he finally gave up offering his questions on affirmative action -- like "What has it done for poor blacks?" -- in class. He got tired of being called a racist, in and out of the room.

There are professors -- Al Gini of Loyola University in Chicago, for instance -- who are taping their lectures after having been accused of racism or sexism or homophobia by the Jacobins who the AAUP says do not exist. That way the professors can defend themselves by playing back what they actually said. And profesors -- as at Princeton and Carleton College -- have dropped courses after being pressured by the Robespierres and Madames Defarges in the student body.

In the September issue of the American Bar Association's Journal, Geoffrey Stone, dean of the University of Chicago's law school and hardly a conservative, says of the ambiance in certain places of higher learning: "Anyone who disagrees or raises doubts runs the risk of being thought of as racist, or sexist or homophobic."

Nadine Strossen, a professor at New York Law School and president of the American Civil Liberties Union, is reported in the same article as having "had to resort to allowing students to make their non-PC feelings on such hot topics as affirmative action known through anonymous notes to be read in class. She admits that she doesn't like having to do this, but she sees no alternatives."

"What really bothers me," Strossen says, "is that the views that students hold privately differ from what they express publicly."

Another ABA publication, Student Lawyer, described a survey by the ABA's Section of General Practice of a cross-section of American law students: "60 percent of the respondents reported there were professors at their law school who were intolerant of political beliefs that differed from their own... . Asked whether they always felt free to express their disagreement with the professors' political perspective in class, 52 percent said they didn't."

From both levels of the classroom, the pressures to be part of a herd are intense. But the AAUP says not to worry. Those who call attention to these smothering orthodoxies are just part of a conspiracy to discredit those brave souls fighting racism, sexism and homophobia on campus.

It's like Dr. Leonard Jeffries of New York's City College, who claims that those accusing him of antisemitism are really trying to scuttle the multicultural curriculum.