A University of Maryland professor was sentenced to three years in prison yesterday in connection with a scheme in which he allegedly accepted kickbacks from graduate assistants in exchange for jobs or course credit.

Al-Tony Gilmore, 36, who was chairman of the university's Afro-American Studies Program until last fall, pleaded guilty in February to one count of accepting a bribe. Yesterday, Circuit Court Judge Arthur M. Ahalt gave Gilmore a five-year sentence, with two years suspended. The maximum sentence for bribery is 12 years. In addition, Gilmore was ordered to pay $20,952 in restitution to the state, the amount Ahalt determined Gilmore allegedly received from the graduate assistants. He is to report to prison on April 29.

Gilmore's attorney, Robert Mance, said that he and his client were "very disappointed" in the sentence, particularly because Gilmore was a first-time offender and had already agreed to make restitution. Mance also said that Gilmore claimed that he only received $12,000 in payments from students.

In a plea-bargaining agreement with Gilmore, prosecutors agreed to drop several other bribery and theft charges against Gilmore in exchange for his guilty plea to one bribery count.

Mance said in an interview that one of his presentencing arguments for leniency towards his client was that "from its inception, this was not a preplanned scheme. It happened and perpetuated itself." In court, Ahalt called that argument "repugnant." However, Ahalt would not comment further on his decision yesterday.

On Feb. 14, Gilmore, whose annual salary at the university was about $41,000, admitted that the three assistants he hired between 1976 and 1982 paid him half of their stipends. According to prosecutors, two of those students did not work as graduate assistants and one of the two received an A grade in each of four courses although he did not attend any classes.

Maryland Assistant Attorney General Joseph L. Evans, who prosecuted the case, said that because the bribes took place at a state institution, an investigation was begun last June by his office and the Maryland State Police. He said that the investigation was prompted by complaints from members of the Afro-American Studies Department. "They were complaining that there were people on the payroll that didn't belong there," Evans said.

Evans said yesterday that he thought Gilmore's sentence was just. "It the sentence would seem to signal the community that white-collar crimes simply cannot be tolerated. When you steal with a pen, you're going to get the same punishment as when you steal with a gun," Evans said.