For the past 10 weeks there has been a running dispute in this city over the conduct of Robert L. Green, president of the University of the District of Columbia. His use of university funds to hire former associates as consultants, his travel expenditures, catering bills and other outlays for items ranging from gifts of flowers to furnishings at his official residence have all been the subjects of stories in the media. The stories have been fed in part by a continuing investigation of Green's presidential expenditures by the D.C. auditor.

Leadership problems at the city's institutions of public higher education are hardly novel. They have cropped up episodically for almost 20 years.

UDC was formed in 1977 in a merger of Federal City College, the Washington Technical Institute and D.C. Teachers College. Federal City and the technical institute had themselves been created by Congress only in 1968, and while the institute's early years were fairly calm, Federal City's were turbulent. Its first president, Frank Farner, brought from Oregon at the instigation of that state's Sen. Wayne Morse, the school's founding legislator, lasted only a year. The college was torn early on by disputes over race and over its role, how to have at the same time an open-enrollment college and sound academic standards. This latter issue has carried over as a basic theme at UDC.

UDC's first president was Lisle C. Carter Jr., who had been chief counsel to the National Urban League and assistant secretary of the old Department of Health, Education and Welfare in the Kennedy- Johnson administrations. His five years in office were steady ones.

In 1982 a divided board chose as his successor Benjamin C. Alexander, who had once been a member of the D.C. school board and had been an educator in Chicago. He took as his goal the raising of standards at the school, pledging to make it a "flagship institution" and turn it into "an open admissions university without open graduation." He quickly offended many faculty members and trustees. Forced to work under an embarrassing resolution requiring him to go before the board before making decisions, he resigned under pressure in less than a year.

The trustees unanimously chose Green to succeed him. The vote was in part an expression of hope that UDC could get on with the business of educating its students and avoid further controversy. Green had been active in the civil rights movement under the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He was a friend of King's widow, Coretta, and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, who had been King's longtime aide. Green was considered an expert on school desegregation (and after assuming the UDC presidency played a role in the Prince George's County desesgregation case).

He was dean of urban affairs programs at Michigan State University, and earlier had been dean of the college of urban development there. But that college had been small -- only 120 students and eight faculty members when it was abolished for budgetary reasons in 1981 -- and Green had had no experience running an institution as large as UDC, which now has more than 13,000 students, about 570 faculty members and a budget of close to $70 million.

The expenditures that have been at issue the past three months are these:

Consultants' fees. Records indicate that some $80,000 has been paid out in consulting and other fees to former associates of Green, most of them from the urban affairs program at Michigan State. The largest sums apparently went to Cassandra A. Simmons, a former student and longtime friend of the president. From August 1983 through July 1984, Simmons was given six contracts to do work for UDC either on her own or with others. These totaled over $17,000.

She produced two reports in the course of this work. One had to do with student affairs and undergraduate course offerings at UDC, the other with administative programs and a proposed new urban research center. She and two other consultants also received a $20,000 contract from the D.C. Department of Public Works to explain how UDC might help the department meet its staffing and training needs. The $20,000 came from UDC funds. The 52-page report that resulted included 20 pages of course descriptions from UDC's catalogue.

More than $25,000 was also paid under 11 contracts to Maxie C. Jackson and W. Louis Stone, who both became vice presidents of UDC. Jackson -- then director of Michigan State's center for urban affairs, now UDC provost -- produced two reports totaling five pages, one of which included an organizational chart and concluded that the UDC president had too many officials reporting to him. Stone -- then an MSU urban affairs faculty member and now UDC vice president for budget -- produced a four-page report on the UDC ledger system.

Green says both men were important to him as advisers as he took over UDC. He says all the consultants he hired were well qualified, that he needed advice in the early days and felt it best to turn to people he knew, and that in all cases serious work was done, worth its cost.

Travel. As of June, Dr. Green had taken 32 trips while in office, according to records given to The Post, at a cost of about $20,000. Eleven of the trips were to Michigan, nine to Atlanta. One of the trips took him to a wedding, two to funerals. On nine occasions his wife accompanied him, at university expense. Green says: Most of the trips to Michigan were to clean up his affairs there, and some were also to recruit. One was for the funeral of a former research assistant, at which he had been invited to deliver a eulogy. The Atlanta trips mostly involved his work on the board of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Social Change. The other trip to a funeral (in Houston) he combined with a recruiting effort. The trip to the wedding in Seattle should not have been billed to the university, and he has paid it back. A separate charge by the auditor -- that he double-billed for two trips, was false. (It has been withdrawn.) Travel, Green argues, is an important part of any university president's work, helpful in attracting funds, promoting his school and improving its status.

Catering: Records given to The Post indicated over $83,000 in catering costs were paid by the office of the president. Green points out that only about $24,000 of these were for presidential functions, the rest for other university affairs wrongly billed to his office.

Miscellaneous. Green lives in a $335,000 house bought for his predecessor. About $70,000 was spent on furniture when the house was bought. The Greens have spent over $34,000 more on furniture and other household items since he took office. He says much of this is in lieu of some furniture that was being rented when he arrived, at a cost of about $12,000 a year. The auditor has also said that Green improperly used UDC's tax- exempt status in buying personal items at local department stores; Green has now paid the $147.50 in sales taxes involved. Green, whose salary is $74,900 a year, has also repaid the university for a variety of other minor items on which the auditor found he had improperly spent college money. These include a briefcase, various gifts of flowers and two D.C. Council campaign contributions.