The American Council on Education, which represents more than 1,500 colleges and universities, has told the Defense Department that it would violate the schools' constitutional rights if it proceeds with proposed changes in its policy of imposing sanctions on schools that bar military recruiters.

The changes were proposed shortly after a dispute between DOD's judge advocate general's office and a number of law schools, including Harvard and UCLA, that bar recruiters who discriminate against homosexuals.

According to comments filed by the ACE, the 1972 law giving DOD the power to withhold research funds from colleges and universities that bar military recruiters was intended to apply only to schools with an avowedly antimilitary policy, not to schools with policies that might incidentally bar military recruiters.

"Institutions of higher learning are to be told that, if they wish to have DOD funds used at their institution . . . not only must they permit the armed services to recruit under the same rules as are applicable to all others, they must alter those rules if they conflict with DOD policies," the ACE said.

Andrew Effron, an attorney in the judge advocate general's office, said yesterday that a final decision on the policy should be made before March.