On Sept. 12 I was present at the extraordinary meeting in New Orleans between Pope John Paul II and representatives of Catholic higher education. As I listened to the pope speak, his clear enthusiasm for the enterprise of higher education and his appreciation of the difficulties facing America's Catholic colleges and universities were apparent even to this Methodist. His remarks were greeted with applause, particularly at the end of his talk when he put aside his prepared remarks and spoke very movingly of the church's need for educators.

But when I picked up The Post Sept. 13 and read headlines like "Pope Urges More Control by Church Over Colleges," and "Pope Advocates Stronger Control by Church in Higher Education," I wondered if The Post's reporters had heard the same pope. Aware that I might have missed some nuances of the address, I contacted a number of my Catholic colleagues who had been in New Orleans. They were not suffering from "heightened anxiety," as The Post had predicted; in fact, they were encouraged by the message of hope and openness they had heard.

And with good reason, for contrary to the headlines, at no point during his speech did the pope call for more control by the church over the colleges. Instead he pointed out the "intimate relationship" that exists between the church's bishops and universities. He explicitly rejected the notion that this relationship was one of "power and dominion," placing it firmly in the realm of service and interdependence. As a former professor and college president, I was personally gratified to hear John Paul II reaffirm the value of academic inquiry.

It is regrettable that The Post chose to use such misleading headlines, focusing on predictions of controversy and past conflicts rather than on the event it was supposed to be covering. Above all, why did The Post presume to anticipate the reactions of the Catholic educators, rather than interviewing some of them?

A newspaper of the stature of The Post, no less than a university, should be dedicated to the service of truth. But the truth has not been well served in this case.

RICHARD F. ROSSER President, National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities Washington