Morgan State University interim President Earl S. Richardson has been selected to continue as permanent head of the 117-year-old predominantly black school, the board of regents announced yesterday.

Richardson's appointment comes eight months after former president Andrew L. Billingsley resigned after complaints about a legislative audit that documented fiscal mismanagement at the school.

David F. Johnson, a chemist at the National Institutes of Health who is chairman of Morgan State's board of regents, said yesterday that Richardson was selected from among four finalists for the job, in part because of his performance as interim president.

"We needed a good, strong leader," Johnson said. "Someone who had a good people sense, someone who was going to be a wound healer, if you will."

Richardson, 41, who received his BA degree in social science from the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore in 1965, also holds master's and doctoral degrees in education administration from the University of Pennsylvania. Until February, he served as assistant to University of Maryland President John Toll, with special responsibility for the university's long-range planning study.

Before that, he spent nearly eight years as executive assistant to the chancellor and director of career planning and placement at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore.

Richardson, who has been paid about $52,000 a year as interim president, will negotiate a new salary with the regents, Johnson said, which could increase to $66,500 maximum annually.

The five-month national search for Billingsley's replacement ended Monday when a majority of the members of the board of regents voted for Richardson, Johnson said. The four finalists, he added, were drawn by the search committee from an initial list of 72 applicants for the position. One informed source said the vote was 7 to 6.

Richardson, who was unavailable for comment yesterday, said in a September interview that he sees the need to make a "continuing and deliberate effort" to improve management at the 4,300-student institution as well as to restore Morgan to its former reputation as a school catering to black students through academic excellence.

"It's something that you have to continue to work at," he said.