Robert Samuelson's writes that "most colleges are obsessed with surviving" and "subtly lower academic standards to ensure the flow of students" {"The College Charade," op-ed, June 13}. From what I saw last fall at a local two-year college when I took over the classes for three weeks of an absent English instructor, Mr. Samuelson is right on the money.

The regular instructor told me ahead of time that the quality of students was abysmal, so I should just read any assigned essays to them in class, because they certainly would not read them on their own. In fact, he said that I really wouldn't have to do much of anything, except play some video tapes on how to write and talk a little bit about them afterward.

In addition to doing no reading, during these three weeks, the students also had not been assigned any writing tasks at all in this "writing" course, except for bringing to class a one-sentence thesis statement around which they were later to build a research paper. Almost all of the thesis statements they turned in were not only nearly illiterate, but made it clear that even though we had thoroughly discussed how to do it, the students had no idea of how to write one -- and this was toward the end of the semester, when one would suppose they had practiced this many times.

When the day approached that we were to be discussing one of the assigned essays, I warned the students that I was not going to read it to them, and that I would give them a quick quiz to make sure that they were prepared. Despite this mighty threat, only three or four students out of each class had bothered to do the assignment. Nevertheless, they seemed to enjoy going through the essay in some detail, discussing the author's use of irony, concrete detail, word connotations, etc. After class, one of the better students told me that that was the first time in that class they had ever analyzed an essay: they usually just had it read to them. And I can't resist mentioning that one time I happened to mention Karl Marx, and not one student in either class had ever heard of him.

So that's what college has become? "Charade" was Mr. Samuelson's word. On my last day with these students, I told them that what they were doing was pretending to go to college. Mr. Samuelson also said that 40 percent of incoming freshmen say a main reason they are enrolled is to improve "reading and study skills." If what I saw was any indication -- and from conversations with other instructors, it is -- many of those freshman are being royally cheated. JEAN M. BATHURST Chevy Chase