Eugene D. Genovese, a Marxist and leading historian of antebellum America, whose pro-Viet Cong sympathies became an academic cause celebre of the 1960s, has been narrowly rejected for a position on the University of Maryland faculty.

After being invited to apply for the job in January, Genovese's selection for a fully tenured position -- recommend by a faculty subcommittee in April -- was rejected last month by a 23-23 vote of the history department at the College Park campus.

Louis Harlan, a Booker T. Washington biographer and head of the subcommittee recommending the appointment, said Genovese's Marxist orientation was "not a negligible issue" in the vote but that several other factors came into play.

One such factor, he said, was competition between different disciplines within the department for the coveted additional teaching slot, which would have been founded from a special appropriation set aside by the legislature to recruit outstanding professors from other campuses and keep others already here who receive attractive offers to leave.

Genovese, 49, is former chairman of the history department at the University of Rochester, where he still teaches. He has served on the executive council of the American Historical Association and is the immediate past president of the Organization of American Historians.

Such credentials, marking acceptance by the academic establishment, have accumulated in the years since Genovese's 1964 remark at a Vietnam teach-in that he "welcomed a victory" by the Viet Cong. The comment drew demands from politicians such as Richard M. Nixon that he be fired from New Jersey's Rutgers University. The school voted to retain him, but he left of his own accord in 1967.

Genovese was reported on medical leave from the University of Rochester yesterday and could not be reached for comment.

The vote to reject Genovese for the University of Maryland faculty "was in no way a political decision or an ideological decision," said Elbert H. Smith, the dissenting member of the three-member subcommittee that recommended his appointment. "I have no objection to his economic orientation whatsover."

The decision hinged instead, he said, on a feeling that the department was already strong in the field of 19th-century American history.

"We already had five people teaching the same field, including three national prizewinners," said Smith, "We have people retiring in English history we haven't replaced yet. It's a question of how you use your resource."

Emory Evans, head of the history department, said there are no vacancies to fill. He said Genovese would have-been paid from the special fund, which totals $350,000 for the year ending June 30, plus $225,000 during the next 12 months.

The suggestion that Genovese be recruited came from Robert Webb, chairman of the history department at the University of Maryland's Catonsville campus, where the Marxist professor would have spent a third of his time. Webb, like Genovese, has been active in national historians" groups.

Genovese journeyed to College Park in April and, as part of the hiring process, met with the subcommittee and lectured to some 70 professors and graduate students.

"It was a very well done lecture. He's a very eloquent man," said Smith. Genovese spoke generally about black nationalism and discussed his current research proposals revolving around the planter class in the South before the Civil War, Evans said.

The meeting on May 7 to decide the hiring question was "dispassionate but argumentative," according to Harlan. A subliminal factor, Harlan suggested, may have been "the fear that if you put someone [new] at the top, it might forced out someone at the bottom. Even though he's a distinguished historian and it's out of a special fund, no one knows how long that [fund] will last."

"In the old days, there a lot of lateral movement," Harlan said. "Today, there are so few jobs open in history. It's a very static job situation, and there are a lot of insecurities in the academic world."

Harlan said he was "without reservations" about hiring Genovese.

"I'm disappointed," added Evans, the department head. "Genovese is a very strong scholar and a good teacher, too."

At the Catonsville campus, acting history department chairman James C. Mohr said Genovese had been "well-received" there but that the College Park vote vetoed the entire deal.

A decision two years ago by University of Maryland President John S. Toll to reject Marxist professor Bertell Ollman to head the department of government and politics resulted in a formal censure by the American Association of University Professors. In that case, a College Park search comittee had recommend Ollman's appointment.

"This is a different situation," said Evans. "There has never been any recommendation [by the full faculity] on behalf of Genovese."