The president of Northern Virginia's George Mason University encouraged the resignation of the school's chief academic officer and ordered sweeping administrative changes in an effort to improve its image and financial management.

Details of the reorganization were unveiled this week when George W. Johnson, the president of the 6,886-student university, met with faculty members in an attempt to quell campus rumors of wholesale staff changes and resignations. Several administrators said Johnson is troubled that the school, which likes to call itself "The State University in Northern Virginia," has the image of a "commuter college."

Johnson, 53, who came to the school from Temple University three years ago, said he and George Mason's vice president for academic affairs, David Powers, "mutually agreed" that Powers should resign. Johnson said Powers' resignation and several other reassignments "should greatly increase our ability to deal with our own management problems . . . It's not too late for us to regain public confidence."

While George Mason has built hundreds of dormitory rooms, established a law school and several doctoral programs since it gained university status and split from the University of Virginia in 1972, it has begun to encounter financial problems as both the state and federal governments have cut their higher education spending.

Faculty members, who had sought a 10 percent raise this year, won only half that amount from the General Assembly, which preferred to commit funds for new construction projects, including a 9,200-seat sports arena and a humanities building. The school's computer system, which could aid fiscal management, is uncompleted and, administrators say, there have been complaints from many of the school's 462 full-time faculty members that they are overworked.

"I think there is some concern among the faculty about stability in the administration," said W. Thomas Kiley, chairman of the school's Faculty Senate. "It has not gotten to the point where it's affecting instruction," he said because the most recent changes have not been felt by the school staff.

Johnson freely conceded this week that there are morale problems at the school. "We've just got to make do with fewer dollars and be hyper efficient." He said that once his reorganization plan is in place morale should improve.

Under his plan, approved by the school's Board of Visitors, all three of the top administrators in the office of vice president for academic affairs will be given new assignments.

Besides Powers, who resigned effective June 30 to head up a national university business research center, Ralph Baxter, associate vice president for academic affairs, is scheduled to handle school relations with local businesses, and Dorothy MacConkey, assistant vice president for academic affairs, will work on a special faculty development project.

Johnson also named Patricia Riorden director of admissions, and said he plans to reassign the current director of the school's library, John Veenstra, to spend a year putting together a "special collection" of library books.

In addition, Johnson said he will place the news and information office under his direct control to "help me better coordinate public affairs and institutional image-making."