IN A JURISDICTION like the District of Columbia, which is home to large parts of the federal government, it is genuine news of the man-bites-dog variety when an agency or institution says that it doesn't need funds that it had once requested. So we wasted no time trying to find out what the University of the District of Columbia's board of trustees was up to when it announced this week that $115 million that it had originally put in its long-range construction plan was not needed - at least not at this time. THe answers were refreshing. What the board was doing was simply a realistic reassessment of anticipated student enrollment in the coming years and a reexamination of the way in which university and student needs can best be met.

The first thing to be said about this, in a town where spending more money is often thought to be the surest test of important, is that the downward revision of the university's estimated needs in no way minimizes the importance of the university. Raher, it reflects the kind of tough-minded planning needed to build an institution of such size and scope. The blending of Washington Technical Institute, Federal City College and D.C. Teachers College into one institution is no small task. By the time of the official merger, scheduled for Aug. 1, the board intends to have developed a unified academic and technical curriculum and to have select a president. Appropriate campus locations need to be provided - and this is the issue that the board wisely decided to deal with in slow and careful stages.

Despite this recent action, the university's struggle is far from over. There is still the appropriations tussle on Capitol Hill for construction funds for the Mount Vernon campus, a cornerstone of the overall development plan of the university. And funding must be obtained from the city council for an adequate operating budget. Nevertheless, the news is good - and the outcome looks promising. Under the careful leadership of Board Chairman Ronald Brown, the University of the District of Columbia seems to have gotten off to a sensible start.