Ellis D. Norman has resigned as general manager of the financially troubled Howard Inn, saying university officials did not let him manage the hotel "as a hotel should be managed."

The 150-room hotel has been cited by Howard officials as a contributor to the university's budget deficit. They said Norman was involved in disputes about managing the hotel but was not asked to quit.

Norman, 45, came to the Howard Inn in December 1981, nine months after the university purchased it from the federal government. The building, at 2225 Georgia Ave. NW, was formerly known as Harambee House. It opened in 1978.

Over the past year, Norman said, the hotel ran a deficit of $2 million, including extensive renovation costs. This added to a university-wide deficit that has prompted a major review of academic programs.

Norman said in an interview that he resigned because he had not been able to hire, fire and transfer key employes. He said he also had disputes with university officials over the size of the budget deficit expected for the coming year and over the hotel's brochure, which pictures only black guests.

Caspa L. Harris Jr., Howard's vice president for business and fiscal affairs, said Norman had not been asked to resign, but added: "He is free to follow my directions or else. . . . We won't allow any individual to run wild."

Roger D. Estep, vice president for development and university relations, said that although Howard hopes the hotel will become self-supporting, its prime purpose is to train students in a new hotel management program. The first students in the program are scheduled to begin working at Howard Inn next fall.

The nine-story hotel has encountered serious problems ever since it opened between a bakery and gas station near the Howard campus. The venture was promoted by Ed Murphy, operator of a supper club, and largely financed by the federal government. The government spent $10 million to build the hotel and cover its operating losses before finally assuming ownership of the property and selling it to Howard for $1.3 million.

Norman became its general manager after working for the hotel division of American Airlines and as dormitory manager at the University of California at Los Angeles. After Howard bought it, he said, the hotel building required "almost complete" interior renovation, including a $400,000 remodeling of the supper club, a new telephone system, room locks and electric wiring.

The work caused considerable disruption, Norman said, contributing to a low occupancy rate of 31 percent during the first seven months of last year. For the same period this year, average occupancy climbed to 46 percent, he said. But this was still well below the 65.7 percent occupancy rate from January through July for hotels citywide, reported by the Hotel Association of Washington.

To cut costs, Norman said, the number of employes at the hotel has been reduced from 140 to 92. But he said he was "required to keep some people who were not performing well."

Harris said Norman had been required to follow university personnel procedures. "This is just like any other place of employment," he said. "You don't let people go unless you build a case. . . . We have enough lawsuits already."

For the fiscal year that started July 1, Norman said Harris asked him to submit a budget projecting a $500,000 deficit. But he said he told the vice president that the loss could not be reduced so sharply while maintaining a full-service hotel.

Harris said the university does not plan to curtail hotel services, but he said it is committed to cutting the deficit. "I just can't say we'll run a first-class hotel and the university be damned," Harris said. "Our primary purpose is education."

Howard had a $6.6 million deficit at the close of the fiscal year that ended June 30, 1982. Harris said the deficit had grown during the past fiscal year, but he said an audit statement was not yet available.

Norman said one dispute between himself and university officials concerned the Howard Inn brochure. The pamphlet opens with the slogan "One hotel in Washington caters to your world." All the people pictured in it are black, which Norman said "just looks like you're discriminating, that it's just for the black world."

Norman said about 15 percent of the hotel's guests are white and "I wanted to have a brochure depicting people of both races staying at this hotel. The [ad] agency didn't want that, and the university approved" the photographs showing only blacks, which the agency proposed.

"That was not his decision to make," Harris said later. "He works for me. I don't work for him."

Norman said he was resigning because of "an accumulation of things, but essentially my hands were tied at every turn."