By now, the pattern is familiar: George Mason University attaches generous bait to its hook, casts its line and comes up with a big catch to add to its faculty.

In March, the young Northern Virginia school hired Robert H. Bork, the rejected Supreme Court nominee, and Steven R. Ross, chief lawyer for the House of Representatives, to teach part time at its law school.

Last month, it named Manuel H. Johnson, vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, to head a new institute. Last week, the school snagged prominent sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset for a full-time position.

The university continues in its efforts to woo luminaries, with broadcast journalist Roger Mudd high on its list to be recruited.

"Talk about those people fishing in big waters and catching big fish," William D'Antonio, executive officer of the American Sociological Association, said after the Lipset announcement.

The recent spate of high-powered appointments reflects the formula George Mason has used skillfully in the last five years to build a national reputation.

By offering proximity to the nation's capital, an atmosphere of academic experimentation and lucrative pay, the university has been able to lure notables who normally might gravitate to the ivory towers of Harvard, Yale or Stanford.

"New universities obviously are going to have to do more of that," said Richard B. Freeman, of Harvard University, who has specialized in the economics of higher education. "Universities that want to move up in the pecking order of academic placement . . . can't rely on old ivy."

But the hefty salaries are bound to create resentment.

Some faculty members at George Mason, particularly low-paid part-timers, privately say that they are irked every time they see another celebrity professor added at two or three times their salaries.

Two Hispanic professors who filed federal discrimination complaints in April because they were denied tenure claimed that regular faculty members are shoved aside in favor of high-paid "superstars."

"Obviously a star system is not unusual in the market system," said Ernst Benjamin, general secretary of the American Association of University Professors. Sometimes, he said, "it seems to substitute a popular splash, a single person for a really substantive change at a university. After all, most students are not going to be able to take a class with them."

At George Mason, Bork will be paid $25,000 for teaching two courses, roughly five times the fee for the average adjunct professor. During the 1990-91 academic year, Johnson will be paid $120,000 and Lipset will be paid $139,000.

Those salaries, financed in part by private endowments from Northern Virginia's well-heeled development and business magnates, eclipse those of less-stellar counterparts and, in Lipset's case, even university President George W. Johnson, who makes $125,246. Nationwide, the average faculty salary at public universities in George Mason's division is $40,140, and the average for full-time professors is $49,610.

George Mason officials see no reason to apologize for that.

Senior Vice President J. Wade Gilley agreed that attractive salaries "have been buying that margin of excellence" and noted that the prominent faculty members have bolstered the school's reputation and served as magnets for luring other top-notch academics.

"It kind of feeds on itself," he said. "The professors are recruiting each other now . . . . George Mason is seen by academics all across the country now as a place where they really can make a difference."

In recent years, George Mason also has enticed Nobel Prize-winning economist James M. Buchanan; federal appeals Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg; Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Roger Wilkins, the national coordinator for Nelson Mandela's U.S. tour; Soviet emigre author Vassily Aksyonov; Mexican author Carlos Fuentes; former Office of Management and Budget director James Miller; and anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson.

University officials now have their eye on Mudd, the former CBS newsman who is now Capitol Hill correspondent for the MacNeil/Lehrer Report on Public Broadcasting Service. In an interview this week, Mudd said he was approached by the university and toured the campus in March, but added that it was premature to speculate on whether he will join the faculty.

At some universities, hiring celebrities has drawn considerable fire.

The University of South Carolina spent more than $314,000 to have Jihan Sadat, widow of assassinated Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, teach a single course over three semesters in the mid-1980s. The university's president, besieged for that and other lavish spending, plans to resign next week.

Benjamin, Freeman and other experts maintain that high-paid stars of substance can be productively used to build programs and attract resources.

"If that's all you did, people would look upon it as just putting some glossing," Freeman said of big-name recruitment. But he said George Mason is doing more.

"I've been impressed with their intellectual aggressiveness, if that's the right term," he said. "I assume they have a pretty good strategy. It may not work in the long run; you don't know. But there's more than gloss there."


Robert H. Bork

Rejected Supreme Court nominee will be paid $25,000 for teaching two courses.

Manuel H. Johnson

Vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board will be paid $120,000.

Seymour Martin Lipset

Former Stanford sociologist will be paid $139,000.

(This chart ran only in early edition.)