A RECENT FRONT-PAGE story in the weekly Chronicle of Higher Education brought disturbing news from the campuses: "New Outbreak of Cross-Burnings and Racial Slurs Worries Colleges." "Most administrators" in American colleges and universities today agree, according to the Chronicle, that "cross-burnings and similar acts . . . reflect a national trend toward increasing conservatism and racially motivated violence." The dean of Harvard College, Archie C. Epps III, linked such "increasing conservatism" and "racially motivated violence" even more explicitly as cause-and-effect in the article: "We are in a new era of race relations," Mr. Epps observed. "I think the recent efforts to turn back some of the gains made in civil rights have been taken as a signal to people with racial resentments that it is acceptable once again to insult and threaten minorities." Mr. Epps also raised the specter of possible conspiracy or, at least, close links between the events at Harvard and those the article recounts as having occurred on other campuses.

In the Epps view, evidently shared by the Chronicle's correspondent, the incidents appear to be "part of a pattern." This is the evidence: no killings, no beatings, cross-burnings at two schools, a jostling, one rock tossed, much vituperative name-calling and no comparison with the statistics on racial incidents from earlier years (if available). This is a "pattern"?

That racial tensions remain a continuing problem on some campuses should be obvious, but the Chronicle has exaggerated its case for campus hysteria at this point. As for the efforts by "campus administrators" such as Dean Epps to smudge American conservatism with the taint of extremism, the less said the better. Whether or not there exists a "national trend toward . . . racially motivated violence" in the universities, why blame it on the conservatives? Neither those who oppose busing (among them many black parents) nor even people who support Sen. Strom Thurmond's misguided effort to repeal the Voting Rights Act should be linked as casually as "many black students" (according to the Chronicle) have linked them with resurgent hate groups and unsolved murders of blacks in American cities. Why exaggerate when there may be enough real problems ahead when dealing with civil rights issues during the Reagan presidency?