If freedom of speech, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes observed, "would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater," then academic freedom should not protect the right of a professor to teach garbage. That purported right, though, seems to be enshrined at Wellesley College, one of the nation's best. There, a tenured member of the faculty has adopted as a text a book published by the Nation of Islam. He would be on surer scholarly footing if he taught astrology.

The teacher in question is Tony Martin, a professor in the African studies department, and the book is "The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews." It seems to be Louis Farrakhan's favorite reading, since he refers to it often and cited it at his recent Washington press conference. The "facts" in the book are credited to various scholars, many if not all of them Jewish. As a scholarly work, though, it is fatally blemished. Its intent is to manipulate facts (some of them in dispute) to suggest that Jews played a dominant role in the enslavement of black Africans. In reality, according to Dr. Harold Brackman, one of the scholars cited by Farrakhan, Jews owned "a fraction of one percent" of the total slave population.

Historical truth is important, of course, but even if Farrakhan had his facts right, it's hard to see their relevance. After all, the ancestors of about 99 percent of American Jews were still in Europe at the time of the Civil War -- and even those who were singing "Dixie" are long dead. The relevance, if such a word can be used, is this: The "Secret Relationship" is an antisemitic tract, employing the standard lexicon of paranoia: "secret," "hidden," "facts known to only a few."

So why use "The Secret Relationship" in a college course? The answer Martin has given is that "the book is substantially accurate and represents a serious attempt at historical scholarship." As for the former, that's hardly the case. As for the latter, nothing could be further from the truth. Martin may well have provided his real reason when he wrote about the Wellesley controversy in a self-published book, "The Jewish Onslaught: Dispatches From the Wellesley Battlefront." In it, he wrote about "the on-going Jewish onslaught against black progress." The chairman of Martin's own department, Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe, called the book "pernicious."

Two issues have to be separated. The first is Martin's right to write his book without fear of losing his job. No problem. That is the essence of academic freedom. But when he uses an antisemitic book in his teaching and, moreover, refers to it as "substantially accurate," that is a different matter. That is like Dr. Leonard Jeffries, the City College of New York's preeminent racial theorist, teaching that whites are somehow morally and intellectual inferior to blacks because they have less melanin. Both are examples of pseudo-science based on pseudo-research that have no place in the academy.

Wellesley, however, sees things differently. The school's president, Diana Chapman Walsh, sent out a letter to some 40,000 parents and alumni reaffirming the college's belief in academic freedom. She said the college "will not censor him {Martin} in any way. But we will censure him."

But why one and not the other? After all, if a math teacher taught that two and two equaled six, would he be protected by academic freedom? Could a racist use the writings of certain people to suggest that blacks are less intelligent than whites? Would a college tolerate the use of purported evidence to suggest that Japanese are sneaky, Chinese inscrutable, Turks cruel, Poles dumb and women shrieking hysterics who ought to be subjected monthly to house arrest?

The pretense at Wellesley is that an academic debate is in progress -- one of those on-the-one-hand-on-the-other disputes, this time about the Jewish role in slavery. But that's not what Martin is doing here. If he were to use the Nation of Islam book as an example of racist propaganda, more power to him. But when he introduces it as having scholarly bona fides, then he is trafficking in bigotry himself. The intent of the book, the very reason it was written, was to buttress Farrakhan's case that Jews were and continue to be inordinately responsible for the plight of African Americans. That is not only a lie, it stands truth on its head. If Jews played an inordinate role vis-a-vis African Americans, it was as their allies.

Wellesley and the rest of American higher education cannot allow itself to be used by bigots who abuse academic freedom. The promotion of bigotry in the classroom is not, as some would have it, an interesting dispute about academic freedom; it's a perversion of everything Wellesley and the rest of higher education are supposed to stand for. Martin should be fired not for his politics but for his incompetence.