Charles T. Duncan, appointed dean of Howard University Law School three years ago, has resigned over what he described as "internal problems" among the faculty.

Duncan, 52, a former D.C. Corporation Council, was the seventh person since 1960 to serve as dean of the troubled law school, which produced many top black civil rights lawyers and was a think tank for the civil rights movement in the 1940s and '50s.

Although Duncan would not provide details of his Aug. 9 resignation, several faculty members, who asked to remain anonymous, said Duncan was caught in an internal political struggle between tenured and nontenured faculty members.

At the center of the controversy is the committee on promotions and tenure, a powerful panel of five tenured faculty members. Of the school's 30 fulltime faculty, only 10 are tenured. And faculty members must be tenured to sit on the committee.

Junior faculty members maintain that tenured professors use their positions as committee members to block tenure and promotions of younger faculty members in order to keep the number of tenured faculty members down to a small and powerful group.

In instances where Duncan has attempted to overrule a decision of the committee, the committee has always managed to override Duncan's efforts, junior faculty members maintain.

"It had reached a point where the motion that Duncan had full authority as dean of the law school was just an illusion," said one faculty member.

Another faculty member said that Duncan was frustrated in every attempt he made to revitalize the law school. Last year about 37 per cent of Howard law school graduates who took bar examinations failed.

Some faculty members maintained that frequent meetings and conferences called to iron out internal staff problems made it difficult for professors to devote full attention to academics.

A clinic law program, in which law students were able to practice in the courts, was a popular program at the school, but received little support from tenured faculty members, according to one member of the faculty.

Duncan, a graduate of Harvard Law School, was appointed dean at Howard July 1, 1974. He came when the school was attempting to broaden its program from primarily social law to the fields of corporate law, business and finance.

From the late 1920s and into the 1950s, Howard Law School produced the many of the nation's top civil rights lawyers, then its campus and classrooms served as headquarters for planning strategy for civil rights fights in the courts.

Charles Hamilton Houston, who also attended Harvard Law, returned to Howard and reorganized the school in the image of his alma mater.

During the height of the civil rights era, the Howard school produced such men as Thurgood Marshall, now a U.S. Supreme Court justice. William B. Bryant, chief judge of U.S. District Court, and the late William H. Hastie, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

There are now 30 fulltime faculty and 450 students at the law school where classes begin today. Associate Dean Oliver Morris will take over as acting dean until a new dean is appointed, according to a university spokesman.

Duncan, who teaches constitutional law and business law, will remain at Howard as a fulltime member of the faculty.

In recent years, top college graduates who would once seek admission at prestigious Howard Law, are now applying to and being readily accepted by larger, predominately white law schools.

According to some Howard Law faculty members, this has led to a general decline in the quality of students who apply and are accepted at Howard.

Herbert O. Reid, chairman of the controversial appointments and promotions committee, said that younger faculty members are not committed to providing additional assistance to students who may not have had a background for law school.

"The committee insists on scholarly achievement. We insist that faculty members put their full attention on academic activities," said Reid.

"With our admissions policy, we sometimes get students who do not have the best background for legal education," he said. "The faculty must be committed to preparing these students to be first-rate lawyers."

Reid said some young faculty members at the school have come up to the committee's standards. But he said many young faculty members approach their work as a "parttime jobs."

"There's no way to have a faculty without new blood," he said. "But young blood has to be productive just like old blood."