SECRETARY of Education William J. Bennett had some suggestions for college administrators the other day about dealing with drugs on campus. They have an obligation, he told the educators, to care for the moral and physical well-being of their students and to protect them from certain influences, including drugs, criminals, fraud and exploitation. Mr. Bennett says he has been criticized for expressing these views and told that he sounded like "a small-town PTA president." We don't think that's necessarily a pejorative, since PTA presidents tend to be the kind of people who care about children and public institutions. But why is this admonition to the colleges derided as "simplistic"?

It would be wonderful, the secretary told his audience, if every college president would write the following letter to his students this summer: "Welcome back for your studies in September; but no drugs on campus. None. Period. This policy will be enforced -- by deans and administrators and advisers and faculty -- strictly but fairly." That sounds fine to us. We agree with him that most parents, and students who are not involved with drugs, would welcome such a clear policy announcement and would support its enforcement. Does this necessarily mean calling in the local police to handle every problem? Of course not. But a commitment to combat drug use on campus will go a long way toward creating a climate where this behavior is viewed as risky, foolish and, eventually, unacceptable to a large majority of the students.

Colleges can't solve the drug problem alone, for students of that age are free to make decisions about their own lives. But just as university health services encourage fitness and deplore smoking and alcohol abuse, they have an opportunity and an obligation to campaign vigorously against drugs. And as administrators would act quickly in cases of theft, violence or racial discrimination, they should not hesitate to move against offenses involving drugs for the simple reason that these acts are both illegal and wrong.

University leaders have some authority and much responsibility in our society. It is not unreasonable to ask them to take a strong stand against drugs on campus.