Henry Rosovsky, dean of the faculty of arts and sciences at Harvard university, was at least the third person to turn down an offer to the presidency of Yale, it was learned.

Two other prominent academicians - Donald Kennedy, head of the Food and Drug Administration and a former Stanford University professor, and John Evans, president of the University to Toronto - refused informal offers for the post within the last two weeks, according to informed sources.

This was considered a major departure for Yale, for Rosoysky, a Polish immigrant, would have been the univerity's first Jewish president. However, he turned the job down, and, after press reports to that effect appeared, Yale, in a highly unusual move, announced late Wednesday night that Rosovsky "will not be the next president."

This disclosure is bound to increase the institutional anguish of the 276-year-old university, which has long prided itself in being a bastion of America's social and economic elite.

"Everyone knows the financial problems that they've had up there. Everyone knows the alumni problems they've had," said one highly regarded former dean at Harvard, Yale's traditional rival, "The next president is going to have to be a healer. It's not the kind of job a careful man takes without thinking twice."

It may also further complicate Yale's search for a successor to Kingman Brewster, one of the nation's best-known and most controversial campus figures during the turbulent 1960s. "What does it do to someone to know they're the second, third, fourth or sixth person to be offered a job like that?" asked the same Harvard source. "It certainly doesn't help an institution."

The disclosures were also seen as an embarrassment to the Yale Corp., the university's governing body, which has tried to conduct its seven-month search for a new president with all the pomp and secrecy that normally surrounds the selection of a new Pope.

Neither Kennedy nor Evans could be reached for comment last night, and their reasons for turning down the job were not made public. Evans, a young medical doctor, however, has frequently been mentioned as a possible successor to Pierre Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, and is considering running for public office next year.

They were apparently sounded out about the job several weeks ago, according to informed sources. When they refused, Yale then turned to Rosovsky, a highly respected scholar who holds what many consider the second most powerful post at Harvard.

This was considered a major departure for Yale, for Rosovsky, a Polish immigrant, would have been the university's first Jewish president. However, he turned the job down, and Yale, in a highly unusual move, announced late Wednesday night that Rosovsky "will not be the next president."

"I think they're very upset," said Jonathan Kaufman, until recently editor of the Yale Daily News. "It's real-kick in the teeth for them.Here Yale goes out on a limb and asks a Jews from Harvard to be its president and he says no."

The Yale Corp., which includes Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance and two senators in its membership, has scheduled a meeting beginning today, and university spokesmen yesterday indicated that a new president may be announced Saturday or Sunday. But one member of the corporation's presidential search committee said, "I'm not optimistic about it."

Neither Rosovsky nor Harvard would comment on why he had rejected the job. However, one colleague said Rosovsky had been highly honored by the Yale offer, but was leary of problems at Yale and wanted to complete work on a major curriculum revision effort he has under way at Harvard, where he has spent much of his adult life as economics scholar and administrator.

"Institutions vary. You know a lot about one institution and not very much about the other," the colleague said. "One institutional is solvent; the other has deep financial problems. Then when you go to a new place it takes some time to get acquainted with the people and the community. The types of jobs are different. A university president spends much of his time with ceremonial duties and forever goes around carrying a tin cup. All of these play a role."

Brewster left Yale last spring with a $3.5 million deficit for the year a faltering $370 million fund-raising drive, a festering labor dispute with the university's blue-collar union and an alumni suspicious of many of the changes at the university during the last decade - including the admission of undergraduate women. Brewster is now ambassador to Britain.

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With all Yale's problems, this knight in shining armor to come in here and clean things up," biology Professor John P. Trinkaus said yesterday.