Norman Manasa has a letter of recommendation from the chief justice and a whole satchel full of enthusiastic comments from Sens. Hatfield, Pell and so forth, but the problem is that he's not looking for a job.

On the contrary, he is one of those fellows who never had trouble getting a job. He can work machines, he can run Irish bars, he can write manuals telling you how to work a computer, zub, zub, zub, but none of the above is his heart's dream, and since he is one of those people who are forever poking about for better bread than is made with grain, he remains hungry at the core.

He wants nothing less than for the whole system of American colleges to send millions of students out into elementary schools, into jails, into every other institution that has some program of teaching, for all those places have a good many people who need tutors. And American colleges are full of students who, while perhaps not brilliant, can at least read, somewhat, and who could help those having trouble worse than Princeton's.

There is nothing shameful about needing a tutor. Just last spring the Senate itself was reminded by Hatfield (but let me say that Mr. Manasa's scheme is not so comprehensive as to include tutoring for the Senate) that "even Alexander the Great had a tutor."

Alexander, of course, had Aristotle, and those who like better than anything else to find reasons why nothing will work will probably point out that we are short a few million Aristotles to tutor the poor, the illiterate, and the helpless.

Manasa is hardly an ivory-tower type who requires Einsteins only. He is of Lebanese background, his father was a Detroit bus driver, his mother a nurse, and he grew up in a large family (he has five sisters to start with) in a house with one bathroom. He is no stranger to patience, to negotiation, to tact, or to the realities of things.

As a student at the University of Miami, in the late 1960s and early '70s, Manasa started up such a program. He has enthusiastic letters from jails and so on to testify the program was a great success.

The dean of the business school, Carl McKenry, was vice president of the university when the program was flourishing there for four years. He says it was "an excellent program" at a time when "you had a body of students eager to participate" in outreach projects, but he believes that now "the student is concerned with getting the education he requires to get ahead" and he doubts you would now find many students keen to spend six hours a week tutoring, plus meeting once a week with their faculty supervisor -- in brief, he doubts students are now keen to give the time.

He also warns that administrative costs should not be ignored. There should be a professional running the program, he says, and any professor is going to expect to be paid for it. In a comparable venture, he said, a professor who works with student-intern programs expects his workload in other subjects to be reduced. If a professor makes $30,000, for example, he expects a reduction of three hours elsewhere, and this winds up costing about $10,000.

All the same, the dean says, if you can get the (relatively small) sums needed for administration and can find students eager to take part, "it's a good idea."

Manasa does not like anybody to call his Alma Mater "Suntan U," by the way, and says everybody told him, when his program began, that students would certainly be spending their time on the beaches rather than tutoring the poor, but this was not so. Instead, he says, students fairly leapt at the chance to do something useful, once they saw they were truly making a difference in kids' lives and were not just playing around in some do-gooder folly.

"Students have it drilled into them, I'm sorry to say, that the aim is to get through school with good grades, to get a degree, and to get on with a good job and a comfortable life. It's not surprising that since they are subsidized and grow up thinking the job of life is to make it big, that's what they do. It's all they've ever heard.

"But they are not animals and they're not irresponsible, either. You ask them to stop thinking of themselves for a minute and help somebody else, and they do. They did in Miami and they will everywhere else. You just have to ask them, and you just have to make it possible for them to give, and they give.

"This me, me, me business. It leads to racing for a degree, never mind whether you learn anything, and later in life it leads to a job measured by money, never mind whether you do anything. It accounts for a lot of disillusion in middle age, guys with a wife and two kids and a nice house and all the rest of it, wondering what it's worth, if anything."

When Manasa left college (he has no degree) he worked at various jobs. In Washington he once managed The Dubliner, an Irish bar near Union Station. Once he had to ask a battling drunk, a lady, to leave. Everybody was scared to death of her.

"You're nice," she said. He escorted her out, she leaned her head on his shoulder and again told him he was nice. He was flabbergasted, the bar crowd was incredulous, and when he walked back to the bar, the whole gang stood up and clapped. They were so happy he still had his teeth.

Later he got a job at the Supreme Court, looking the number up in the phone book. He got a job working on the court's computer programs. He became attached to the chief justice's office. But he wanted to push his tutoring project and felt it was wrong to do it while working for the court, so he left that job. He supports himself doing computer work, sometimes working as an independent contractor if the court calls him for a job, but having no salary or any formal relationship with that august body.

He's 35, single, and he works enough hours to keep body and soul together, using the rest of the time talking to congressmen, school administrators, reporters, or anybody else who will listen.

Once you could get ahead even if you weren't literate. You could work on a farm, you could go far in manufacturing.

"You could be a reporter," it was suggested.

"I wasn't going to say so," he said. "Anyway, now you can't do anything if you can't fit in, and that includes, to begin with, reading and arithmetic. A lot of people are barred, absolutely barred, from taking care of themselves because they never got started. A kid who can't read gets a tutor, who spends many hours with him. He learns, right off, he is important and his education is important. Otherwise, he would not be getting all that attention from a tutor. It changes a great deal. It is the beginning of that kid's self-sufficiency, becoming a producer of wealth later on rather than just a consumer of welfare."

Because he is tactful, Manasa does not quite say what he certainly has firmly in his head: what other programs are in place to do anything about the millions of people who are headed straight for welfare?

So far in Washington, while he has been endlessly encouraged by those in agencies who could use the free tutors, including D.C. school superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie, he has not made the least headway with any college.

"I think of it as a long-distance runner. How do I make money enough for today, how do I do something today that helps the final aim of stirring the universities. I'd go nuts if I didn't concentrate on what I do today."

It is in this column alone, by the way, that you will learn Manasa once wrote a training manual for barmaids, a work unfortunately not immediately obtainable by your humble servant here, and also wrote a manual to assist the clerks of the Supreme Court justices in their general bafflement at computers.

"And when you grow up?" you might ask him.

"A widespread system of tutors from colleges helping the poor. The same thing I wanted as a kid."