RICHMOND, FEB. 12 -- In the face of mounting criticism, the University of Virginia Law School today backed away from a new recruitment policy that critics said could have banned the CIA, FBI and U.S. military from interviewing law students on the Charlottesville campus.

The move came after 54 members of the Virginia House of Delegates sent a blistering letter to university President John T. Casteen III and law school Dean Thomas H. Jackson criticizing the "ill-considered, unwarranted discrimination against these esteemed agencies" and urging that the "offensive" ban be lifted.

Critics of the ban said it was the result of a new law school policy prohibiting organizations that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation from using university facilities for recruiting sessions and interviews.

CIA and FBI officials said that their organizations do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. A spokeswoman for the Department of Defense said, "The policy is that the military services do not take homosexuals."

University spokesman William H. Fishback Jr. said tonight that the policy, which was to go into effect in the fall, was being suspended for review. "This suspension of the law school's policy will ensure that it is clear that governmental agencies can in fact continue to recruit on the grounds," he said.

A recent article in the Charlottesville Daily Progress quoted William S. Hopson IV, director of law school placement, as saying that the FBI, CIA and military would be barred from recruiting on campus under the new policy.

Opposition to the ban was led by professors and students, who circulated petitions against it.

"We believe that the ban itself is discriminatory, and it is arguably illegal and unconstitutional," said political science professor Larry J. Sabato. "This is not a gay versus straight issue. This is a First Amendment issue."

Noting that federal law does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual preference, Sabato said that any organization complying with the law should be allowed on campus. "The wrong response is to attempt to ban the speech or assembly with which you disagree," Sabato said.

School officials said the new policy was meant to bring the law school in line with accreditation requirements of the Association of American Law Schools.

Today's letter from members of the House, which was written by Del. George F. Allen (R-Charlottesville) and had widespread bipartisan support, apparently caused university officials to reconsider the policy and suspend it.