Howard University students holding a sit-in at the school's administration building decided to take off for the Washington's Birthday weekend but said they would be back Tuesday.

About 60 students spent Thursday night in the building as part of a protest against the expulsion of the campus newpaper editor earlier this month.

Yesterday university officials closed the building to everyone but employes, who had to enter by a back door. Officials said Howard President James Cheek remained in his office in meetings through the day. The students stayed in the building until late afternoon.

"We will disperse, strategize, wash up and regroup on Tuesday," said one student reached at the administration building before the group left. The students said they had been unable to bring in much food during the protest, and smuggled only a few cans past security guards.

The editor of The Hilltop, senior Janice McKnight, has been temporarily reinstated, pending a hearing next week. But the students have charged that the expulsion was only a symbol of insensitive administration at the university, and they have called on university President Cheek to resign.

They also have demanded to meet with the university board of trustees about a variety of issues, including housing and parking on campus.

The students originally had planned to march to D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy's office this week to get him involved in the issue, and he had prepared a statement in anticipation of the move, calling the dispute "an internal matter" to be resolved by the various factions at Howard.

" . . . I would prefer that institutions located in the District of Columbia seek to manage their own affairs without the intervention of Congress," Fauntroy said in the statement.

Meanwhile, a letter from Sigma Delta Chi, a society of professional journalists, was presented to McKnight yesterday, commending her for "courage and freedom of speech."

Robert Lewis, national president of Sigma Delta Chi, had written Cheek earlier, protesting McKnight's expulsion and asking that she be reinstated permanently.