AFTER RESIGNING the presidency of American University under pressure last April for having repeatedly made obscene phone calls from his university office, and in the wake of the ensuing outrage over the board of trustees' proposed $1 million payout to get him off campus, Dr. Richard Berendzen has not only managed to construe the negative reaction as an "outpouring" of warm feelings toward him, he apparently has negotiated an arrangement that allows him to return to AU in 1992 as a professor. Unbelievable. The new arrangement, which is being billed as a done deal, will be presented this week to the trustees in a special meeting along with a request to rescind the controversial monetary settlement portion of the original payout.

Unraveling the $1 million severance package ought to be the first order of business. At last count, every major group and organization of any significance to the life of the university had challenged the board's $1 million payout, including all six campus deans in a rare joint memorandum and 84 faculty members who signed a protest letter to Dr. Berendzen imploring him to turn down the package and just leave the campus with only a payout of his contract, citing the "anguish" the deal has caused the university. An unprecedented volume of protest calls and letters also has come to the board from alumni as well as the faculty leadership of the Washington College of Law, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Kogod College of Business, the School of International Service, the School of Public Affairs and the University Library. And the voices of students -- both organized and as individuals -- have been heard early, often and responsibly.

But scaling down the buyout -- which we hope will occur -- resolves only one part of the university's dilemma. Should Dr. Berendzen return to American University in any capacity? Even he has acknowledged the controversy his continued presence would cause. In a three-page statement that he released last month, he said that he had sought to return to the university last June but "key individuals in the university community indicated . . . that they were not receptive to the notion of my returning to the university at any time or in any capacity. Rather, I was told, I should accept a lump-sum payment." That same point reportedly was made to Dr. Berendzen in recent days by four faculty leaders who told him in no uncertain terms that it would serve the university's best interest if he did not return.

Dr. Berendzen apparently would hear none of it and has, as a tenured professor, insisted on coming back as a teacher. According to the university, Dr. Berendzen -- apart from occasional lectures -- has not taught a physics class in more than 10 years. While technically within the board's purview, teaching agreements are customarily within the province of the university administration. Therefore this new agreement with Dr. Berendzen is not likely to be overruled. Should that be the case and if the board refuses to terminate his ties with the university, then the only alternative may be to hope that between now and 1992, when Dr. Berendzen would be scheduled to enter the classroom, he finds something more fitting to do.