At the University of Maryland, campus life seemed back to normal as students returned to College Park recently from their spring vacation. Undergraduates pored over course schedules or bought tickets for a Dan Fogelberg concert, and the basement food cooperative resumed its brisk business in cream-cheese bagels and tofu sandwiches.

But underneath such everyday bustle, a month-old controversy simmers surrounding the men's varsity basketball team and its outspoken coach, Lefty Driesell.

Driesell is under investigation by the university for allegedly harassing a woman student who complained that varsity basketball player Herman Veal had tried to force her to have sex in a dormitory room last year. Following the complaint, Veal was ruled ineligible for the final game of the season and for two post-season tournaments.

The affair has focused unwanted publicity on the campus and propelled the school into a period of self-examination. Students and faculty members are asking a number of questions, including whether athletes should be given preferential treatment among the university's 37,000 students and, if not, what should happen to a coach whose actions indicate that he thinks his athletes should be so favored?

University officials insist that the basketball incident is isolated and will not affect the university's reputation.

"We have experienced a personnel matter that needs to be resolved," says Chancellor John B. Slaughter, who took over the job last November and is conducting the Driesell investigation. "Because it is a sports matter, it reaches a wide audience. But I don't really draw much of a relationship between our ongoing efforts to advance academic progress and this other incident."

But there appears to be widespread feeling among students and some faculty members and administrative officials that the controversy has deeper implications. Critics of Driesell say that the administration's handling of the case will demonstrate the university's integrity on issues involving the highly profitable intercollegiate sports program.

Citing the need for integrity, the Diamondback, the student newspaper, and the student government, called for Driesell's resignation, as did several graduate student groups and women's organizations. Athletic Director Richard Dull says the basketball controversy has tainted the university's reputation. And Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes has asked to review the matter.

"Intercollegiate athletics is important to the life of any major institution, but not more important than high ideals and high standards of integrity," says Bill Salmond, an attorney involved in the basketball controversy, and the director of the campus student legal aid office. "It's a question of whether we want high standards or double standards."

This sort of pronouncement is being repeated in dining halls, classrooms and faculty offices, coming at a time when Maryland is struggling to make the transition from the "cow college" it was viewed as years ago to the top-flight institution that it hopes to become.

Recently the university has suffered from other embarrassing incidents, including a professor who pleaded guilty to giving high grades to students in exchange for money. But today's debate stems largely from the complaint about Driesell.

The coach also was cited in a separate complaint last week by a former student manager of the basketball team who charged that Driesell had failed to promote her because she was a woman. The administration is not yet involved in this case.

Driesell entered the dispute over Veal after the campus judicial board had placed the basketball player on probation. The matter was closed until March 5, the day before Maryland's final game of the season against arch-rival University of Virginia. The woman who brought the complaint against Veal, and who has asked not to be named, claims that Driesell telephoned her three times that day, asking: "How could you do that to me? Don't you know what tomorrow is?"

The coach also allegedly called other school athletes to get information about the woman's background. He subsequently has said, "I have a lot of pull around here, and we'll see how much," and has declared that Veal was the victim in the case. Driesell answered charges by the undergraduate Women's Center that he was insensitive to violence against women by retorting: "I don't care about the Women's Center; I'm the Men's Center."

When asked recently about the Veal incident and its ramifications, Driesell at first said he would have no comment. Then he termed the investigation "a joke." When asked why, he replied, "You'll find out in the end."

For years after his arrival at Maryland in 1969, Driesell was a symbol of Maryland's return to big-time athletics, a coach whom the university band would greet by playing, "Hail to the Chief."

He became a key ingredient in the university's efforts to revive its athletic program, which had deteriorated markedly since the school's glory days of the 1950s. His success brought media attention, valuable television contracts, and a dramatic increase in alumni contributions, which rose from $30,000 in 1970 to more than $1 million last year.

Even his frequent bursts of temper were excused as comic relief or glossed over because of the pride that many students and administrators felt in the basketball team.

Today, some university officials and students maintain that Driesell's recent alleged actions reflect nothing more than his legendary outspokeness, and say that the incident has been exaggerated by women's groups, student leaders, the Diamondback, and the media.

"Integrity is not an issue here," says one faculty member who asked not to be identified, adding that the university has proved its integrity by proceeding with an internal investigation. "You have to put Lefty in context. He cultivates the image of a hayseed."

A group of rugby players gathered in "The Hole in the Wall," a pub in the student union, defended Driesell last week.

"The guys think it's ridiculous," said Mike Greaney, a junior who is majoring in law enforcement. "It might have been a dumb move, but it has been blown out of proportion. He was defending his player, which he has a right to do. Bear Bryant the late football coach at the University of Alabama would have done the same thing."

Some others feel differently, however, and say that Driesell's success is less of a novelty now. They feel that the coach is out of step with administrative efforts to make sports a less elite part of campus life.

This change began with the administration of former chancellor Robert Gluckstern, who left the post last year. Gluckstern's office stiffened the admissions requirements for all students, and began to emphasize the recruitment of "scholar-athletes."

Dull, the athletic director who took over in 1981, and Bobby Ross, who became football coach last year, began trying to integrate athletics into the university by stressing academics and encouraging athletes to live with other students.

"Lefty is part of a tradition that is dying," says one university official who disapproves of Driesell's conduct and who asked not to be named. "I worry about the way coaches serve as role models and encourage athletes to think of themselves as essential to the school. They think they can get away with things."

Says a senior faculty member: "I think that in the long run they administration officials suspect Lefty is an asset financially . Sometimes it hurts. The hardest question I would have to answer in it is, is the damage significant enough at this stage to let his term go on?"

Freshman Kathy Lorenz, thinks that the damage is bad.

"My personal feeling is that he is a jerk," says Lorenz, 18, a former high school cheerleader from Silver Spring who plans to major in French and business. "Here is this guy who is supposed to be representing the university and he comes across just like a chauvinist. He had the audacity to try to pull rank. He was giving the impression that it's just all basketball. There is no basketball game that is worth the reputation of the university."

Some members of the Women's Studies department and the undergraduate Women's Center say that the university's handling of Driesell will be a measure of the administration's willingness to redress what they see as inequities for women students and faculty.

The Driesell incident is linked, in their minds, to several other things, including the need for increased security on a campus where there have been several rapes. And Playboy magazine has proposed to visit the campus to photograph women students nude, a visit that the women's groups, the Diamondback and student government leaders say the university should try to block.

The affair has attracted attention in the state capitol and added to the pressure on the chancellor's office, which has taken a beating in the student press for "moving too slowly" to reprimand Driesell.

"If what has been reported is true, I personally think the university should take some action against Lefty Driesell," says Del. Charles J. Ryan (D-Prince George's), vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, which oversees funding for the university. "The university'y image has improved, the academics have improved. This is not a good thing for the university."

The incident has gone almost unnoticed in other quarters, however.

"I've had practically no comments," says Thomas Fields, director of the Maryland Education Fund, which raised $1.2 million last year for 300 athletic scholarships. "My contributions are coming in right on schedule."

Fields said that his contributors do not believe that Driesell will lose his job.

"Why would he be fired?" Fields said during the spring semester break, just after the Maryland basketball team had advanced in the first round of the NCAA tournament by defeating the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. "He hasn't been charged or indicted for anything. He just won a big game, and all of his players are coming back next year."