Howard University's major student newspaper, The Hilltop, which was the center of a recent controversy stemming from its reporting of a sex-discrimination suit against the school, has suspended publication due to a lack of operating funds, university officials said yesterday.

The Hilltop, which operates on a $170,000 annual budget provided primarily by the university, was found to be in financial trouble last week when the paper was unable to pay its staff salaries, Howard University spokesman Alan Hermesch said.

"The Hilltop board, which oversees the newspaper, voted last night to suspend publication until such time that they can identify funds to pay current debts and projected production costs," Hermesch said yesterday. "The vote was 11 for, 3 against and 2 abstentions."

The board, composed of 26 members, of whom 19 are Howard students and seven are faculty and staff persons, also called for an official audit of The Hilltop, he said.

The full Hilltop board did not meet Tuesday night, but there was a majority of students present, Hermesch said. "There were five faculty and staff and the rest were students. It appears that the vote to suspend publication was a student-supported action," he said.

Hermesch said it had nothing to do with the controvery that erupted over the temporary suspension of the newspaper's editor, Janice McKnight, who was reinstated as editor only last week.

Hilltop photography editor Joseph Jackson said that the newspaper staff disputes the university's claim that no funds are available. "According to the Hilltop's in-office budget records, we still have money to operate. We're highly upset and we're trying to find a way to find alternate funding, at least enough to operate for the remainder of the semester," he said.

The Hilltop normally publishes 28 issues each school year.