The picture on the front page of The New York Times last week depicted a professor laid low by the just forces of the American state -- Federal District Judge Wilbur D. Owens, presiding. tThe professor in question is 50-year-old James A. Dinnan, and there he was washing dishes in a Florida hoosegow. What was this scoundrel's transgression against the laws of our land? Had he corrupted the morals of our youth? No, he had not entered upon any such implausible endeavor. Had he urged the overthrow of the Constitution? Not at all, and anyway doing so is hardly a serious offense in this free and enlightened republic nowadays.

Well, then, what was the jugged prof's offense? Felonious assault? Grand larceny? An offense against nature? No, no. Dinnan is not a violent man, and the taxpayers will thus be saved the expense of attempting to rehabilitate him. That is say the state will not be arranging appointments for Dinnan to meet with psychiatrists, traveling socialogists, therapists, computer dating services and all the other quaks who make life in our prisons so painful for the common brute and so strangely similar to life in our public school system.

Dinnan was actually socked away for refusing a federal district judge's order to tell Majia Blaubergs, an assistant professor, how he had voted as a member of the University of Georgia's faculty committee that voted, six to three, against granting her tenure. The committee found that she had not "done enough high-quality research." Bearing in mind the flapdoodle that is categorized as research in departments of education nowadays, the committee's judgement is a grisly one.

Naturally, Blaubergs filed a sex-discrimination suit and sought depositions from members of the committee. Dinnan agreed to discuss any subject related to the committee's decision except his vote. Unfortunately, that was precisely what Blaubergs wanted to know. Was he one of those voting against her, or had he voted for her? On this point, Dinnan remains mum. "If academic freedom is not the right to judge one's peers free from outside pressure or intimidation," he asks, "then what is it?"

Ah, academic freedom is all well and good, but the American state has higher values to advance today. Hence, since July 3 dinnan has been behind bars, and Blaubergs does not seem terribly incommoded by his family's misery. The proximate agent of American justice here is Judge Owens, a Republican a Presbyterian, a Rotarian and a member of the Idle Hour Golf and Country Club of Macon. Last June, when Owens found the reticent Dinnan in contempt of court, he fined him $100 daily for 30 days. Then he locked him up. On Oct. 3, if Judge Owens has not successfully sweated the crucial information out of him, Dinnan could be returned to jail for another 18 months. All this has ben quietly going on while our career civil libertations busy themselves with litigation over whether to allow teen-agers of the same sex to attend proms as couples and other such sorely vexed questions of liberty.

Some readers will find the American state's treatment of Dinnan unusual, but I would respectfully take issue with them. There are progressive governments all over Eastern Europe and Asia that jail insubordinate profs regularly. Any member of the Politburo will tell you that this is perfectly acceptable, for it is any state's duty to advance and secure progressive values. Furthermore, there is no realm so private in a truly just and virtuous society that it should remain free from the state's benign instrusions.

Two decades of high-minded extortions by activist judges like Owens have now brought these truths to our republic. Fewer and fewer realms remain closed off from government's reforms. Family life, campus life, the files of newspaper reporters -- all are now penetrable to virtuous judges sweating to secure progressive values.

One of their transcendent values is affirmative action. True, affirmative action was never voted for by the American people. It has never received high marks in the polls and, in fact, Congress in on record as having forbidden its unavoidable concomitant, quotas, in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. fYet affirmative action is now one of the foremost values being slammed down on American society, just as Prohibition was once a porminent American value. Like Prohibition, it has the full force of the state behind it.

Today, thanks to such geniuses of American jurisprudence as Judge Owens, the state can march into a university and disrupt tenure sessions. It can lock up professors because they are conscience-bound not to reveal their secret ballots. It can do these things because it knows what is best for us, and because we have yet to leap to our feet and let out a yell. Why not let out a yell?

Why not drop a note to Prof. Dinnan in care of the School of Education at the University of Georgia, Athens, Ga.? Let him know what you think of Judge Owens' vision of the land of the free.