On his way to a broader message in "Black America's House Is on Fire" {op-ed, Feb. 17}, William Raspberry casually remarked that the composition of Stanford University's "official list of required great books" suggests unfairness in racial issues because the list contains no work of black authorship. The fact is that collegiate required reading lists are usually euphemistic renderings of the shamefully abolished requirement of Western Civ., which was often a survey of great Western literature.

Authors such as James Baldwin are left off the list for the same reason that Ivan Turgenev and George Sand are omitted: a survey is intended to touch only the most important elements of the topic -- in this case, thousands of years of Western thought and the origins of our most important institutions. Martin Luther King Jr.'s speeches, for instance, might qualify, but that would depend on whether the purposes of the list were to embrace the oral tradition as well as litera-ture.

In any event, it should come as no surprise to Mr. Raspberry that, if in fact this list replaces Western Civ., the entries on the list do not represent a class that at first contributed to its own self-sustaining culture and later was prohibited from participating in the intellectual affairs of its abductors. I would be surprised to find more than one or two post-bellum Americans on the list.

This controversy, once stripped of its veneer of indignation, is whether we are to employ a quota system for the teaching of intellectual history. The price of politicizing academic requirements has proven too dear over the past 30 years to embark on this new chapter. FRANCIS C. INSERRA Washington