There was much potential in a news report from Durham, N.C., the past week. And it was a sign of the strong state of theater on our campuses, locally and nationwide.

Gov. James Hunt and former Gov. Terry Sanford, now president of Duke University, jointly announced creation of Duke University's "American Musical Theater Center." Broadway composer-producer Richard Adler of "Damn Yankees" and "Rex" fame, who laid the groundwork for the venture, will be its president. The center will be entirely professional, and by this time next year it expects to have launched the first of four initial productions.

The aim is to present first-class productions of new and old works that will tour within North Carolina and, if possible, beyond and to break away from the high costs of traditional Browdway with its restrictively expensive commercial and union conditions.

"For," says Adler, "there are many talents in this country, both young and mature, who would be ideal for our musical stage. Under present conditions, what chance have they for work? Our scheme is to form a stable, talented company independent of major stars but with the quality to hold audiences everywhere, anywhere.

"Of,course we'll be working within union conditions and with their collaboration, but not under the hit-or-miss, strictly commercial standards."

Sanford, who began the North Carolina School of the Arts while he was governor, has promised to put Duke's not inconsiderable resources behind the venture. North Carolina has been conspicuous in its arts support. Its university at Chapel Hill is home to the National Institute of Outdoor Drama. Its legislature this year appropriated $40,000 for its historical drama and increased its appropriation for all nonprofit professional theaters in the state to $210,000.

Duke's entry into the hitherto neglected area of musicals could develop into start of the nation's first permanent musical stage company. The possibilities reach far beyond Duke's beautiful campus.

It also comes at a time when college and university alliances with professional theater are increasing significantly.

Currently the world-premiere production of Israel Horovitz's American adaptation of Ionesco's Man with Bags" is taking place not in the usual professional setting one might expect for an Ionesco script in America, but at Maryland's Towson State University. The players are Equity professional, including veteran Paula Trueman, but the university's director, Paul Berman, and its facilities attracted such noted national critics as Harold Clurman and the New York Times' Richard Eder. You wouldn't have found sych critics tramping to relatively unknown schools a few years back.

Not that the universities haven't been working on the town-gown alliance. Under Dean Robert Brustein, Yale has developed its own professional theater in New Haven. Harvard's Loeb Center this fall will host several professional events: Donal Donnelly in a solo George Bernard Shaw portrait, "My Astonishing Self"; Larry Adler recalling 45 years of his life in "From Hand to Mouth"; William Windom in a one-man successor to his James Thurber portrait, "By-Line: Ernie Pyle." Alleid with Princeton is the McCarter Theater Company, where Michael Kahn's six professional productions of new and old plays have just sealed an alliance with the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Center.

The University of Michigan's long-established professional theater in Ann Arbor this year will welcome return appearances by graduates who have become professionals, among them Maureen Anderman, Robert Sevra, James H. Hawthorn and George Pentercost.

Sylvia Sidney leaped into the College of Sante Fe's "The Matchmaker" when TV's Vivian Vance injured her leg in a filming accident. Hurd Hatfield has been a guest star at the University of Utah. Le Treteau de Paris will make a return visit to Dartmouth.

Wayne State University cosponsors with the Nederlander Theatrical Corporation a national playwriting competition. Southern Illinois University, at Carbondale is sponsoring an international playwriting competition, with professional judges, drawing on the history of the American labor movement.

Catholic University's speech and drama department, founded 40 years ago by Father Gilbert V. Hartke, was an early leader in the poofessional exchange format, with Sara Allgood playing "The Rising of the Moon" and Florence Reed as "Athaliah" joining with student companies.

Again this year, there will be a professional actor for one of the winter productions.CU's season, its first under William H. Graham as Father Hartke's successor, begins with "The School for Scandal," Oct. 14-30, to be followed by "The Corn Is Green," Nov. 25-Dec. 11. "Stephen D," Jan. 27-Feb. 12, will be followed by "Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, by Andrew Webber and Tim Rice, who created "Jesus Christ Superstar," and "The Merchant of Venice," April 14-30.

With its relatively large staff and theater, the University of Maryland is proving to be a leader in this area's college theater field. "The Boy Friend" begins this season's list of five major efforts, Oct. 6-15. "Death of a Saleman," Nov. 10-19," As You Like It," Feb. 2-11; "Bareffot in the Park" and "The Gingerbread Lady," to play in repertory April 6-16, complete the College Park attractions.

Howard University currently is playing its first annual all-faculty production in Ira Aldredge Theater, performing T. G. Cooper's "Portrait of a Woman," which the Howard Theater chief originally wrote for the Playboy Plaza, Miami Beach. Two student productions will follow, Douglas Turner Ward's "The Reckoning," for two weeks starting Nov. 10, and a black adaptation of a noted play to open March 15.

Though Federal City College is now part of the new University of the District of Columbia, this year it will maintain its identity on the G Street Mall. Its Environmental Theater will present Ahmed Davari's mime show Oct. 14, 15 and 16, to be followed by Ted Shine's "Morning, Noon and Night," Nov. 10-13 and 17-20.

American University will continue its seminar approach to the arts with Clendenen Hall productions. This year's theme is "America in the '50s and '60s," inspiring a composite of the period's theatrical scenes Dec. 1, 2, 3, 8, 9 and 10. In the spring will come John Guare's "House of Blue Leaves."

George Washington University's Marvin Center will find its drama department playing "The Importance of Being Earnest" Oct. 13, 14, 15, 20, 21 and 22, to be followed by Goldoni's "The Servant of Two Masters," Nov. 10, 11, 12, 17, 18 and 19. "Dames at Sea" will be done in February and on April 13, 14 and 15 will come Lisner auditorium performances of "The Merchant of Venice," while another version holds Catholic University's stage.

Through its papers on the Federal Theater Project, Virginia's George Mason University is in the picture; some of its material will be done next month at the Library of Congress by the New Federal Theater, which subsequently will be appearing with the multimedia "American Heritage" Theater at 13the and E Streets NW.

Harford Community College, recognizing that its site, Bel Air, was the first American home of the Booth family, calls its auditorium the Edwin Booth Theater, where an ambitious production of "Oliver!," staged by Michele Nelson, will open Oct. 19 to run through Nov. 6.

This by no means is the limit of local college theater activity, but Duke's dynamic plans illustrate their potential.