LATE LAST year, Howard University's new president, Franklyn G. Jenifer, received a bombshell of a report from the special commission he had appointed to study the university. Of Howard, which has long held itself out as the capstone of black higher education, the commission said much that was disturbing and deflating. The university, the commission warned, was performing far short of the mission it claimed for itself or the reputation it once enjoyed.

If Howard University intends to continue to serve the African-American community and meet the demands of the 21st century, said the commission, then the university's programs, colleges and infrastructure must undergo drastic changes. The panel even suggested that Howard should turn from its traditional role of taking in all black students with potential, focusing instead on the more academically promising young black high school graduates and on becoming a scientific, technological and research-oriented institution. To this end, the commission submitted more than 100 sweeping recommendations, ranging from the closing of six schools and the dismissal of some faculty and administrators to a significant tightening of the minimally acceptable SAT scores.

Instructed to take a hard look at Howard, the commission did just that. It produced a tough report. The commission's comments concerning the faculty of the College of Medicine were unusually harsh, and in light of the school's unmatched contribution to the training of black physicians, much too stark. Now the favor is being returned. Since the report's unveiling, students, faculty, administrators and alumni have been given an opportunity to examine the report and submit their own critical comments directly to Dr. Jenifer. That process of full review and participation by the Howard community is as vital to the university's future as the report itself.

After taking these views into account, Dr. Jenifer will provide the board of trustees with his own report for review in early March. By April, the board and Dr. Jenifer should formally come to terms on a blueprint for Howard's new direction. This kind of self-analysis, while difficult and painful, involves the kind of reexamination and self-criticism institutions of higher education should be willing to undertake if they hope to fulfill their basic teaching purpose.