The U.S. District Court judge who wrote a decision affecting mining claims in national parks was misidentified in a Federal Report item Tuesday. He is Thomas A. Flannery.

When Georgetown University President Timothy S. Healy found himself seated next to Attorney General Edwin Meese III last month at a Friendly Sons of St. Patrick banquet, Meese asked him how he thought the new secretary of education, William J. Bennett, was doing.

As Father Healy recalled in a recent interview, "I just exploded. I told Meese, 'I get tired of a guy who went to Williams College and Harvard telling the poor kids that the state college or junior college is good enough for them.'

Healy's emotional reaction was much the same I had expressed in a column last month, assailing Bennett as "the new James Watt" of the Reagan administration. I had been as angered as Healy by the cheap shots Bennett had taken at the elite private colleges such as those he had attended (along with the University of Texas, where he earned his third degree) and at students he said were using government loans to pay for expensive educations, rather than practicing "stereo divestiture, automobile divestiture, three-weeks-at-the-beach divestiture."

In the flood of comments I received -- mainly from students, parents and university officials -- there were several messages from people whose judgment I value, saying that I had gotten Bennett wrong, that he was not the person I had caricatured.

I take such warnings seriously. I knew that on a fundamental question of education philosophy -- the importance of the humanities in the college curriculum -- Bennett and I see eye to eye. I had admired his writing on that topic before the recent controversy erupted, but I did not know him at all well.

So I went to see him, and frankly, I am puzzled by the man I found. There was none of the flamboyant, provocative rhetoric of his first press conference. On the contrary, he said, "I am proud of the fact that 52 percent of our high school students go on to post-secondary education. . . . We value that college degree so much in this society as a symbol. . . . But I'd like it to be more than a credential. I'd like it to be an education."

So would we all. But when Bennett tried to link his education reform goals to the administration's proposals for a cutback in higher education funds, I was not certain whether he was simply being a Reagan loyalist or was as unheeding of the realities as he appeared.

In press conferences and congressional testimony, Bennett has insisted that in proposing to reduce student loans and grants by $2.3 billion and end assistance to 1 million students, the administration is trying to focus available funds on those most in need of help. "In almost all cases," he told me, "a student who really wants to stay in college will find a way" to do so without the government's help.

That judgment is contradicted by every college president and student I have heard from. So I asked Bennett if his department had done any studies of the likely effects of the cuts -- in moving students from private colleges into public institutions or making them involuntary dropouts.

"There wasn't any done," he said. "I think the people who put the proposal together here and at (the Office of Management and Budget) understood that there would be some movement. And my guess is, frankly, that they took the estimate the private college people were offering and reduced it by a factor, thinking they may well be exaggerating. We're hearing from the private-college people (that there will be) at least a 20 percent (dropout rate). I don't think it's going to be anything like that high."

Would it concern you if it were? I asked. "Not by itself, no," he said. "If I thought it would represent heartbreak, great disappointment and a serious sacrifice in the quality of education for large numbers of people, then I'd get upset. I would not deny that in some circumstances, all three of those things will occur . . . but I don't think in most circumstances."

In a recent appearance on Capitol Hill, Bennett was told by Rep. Marge Roukema (R-N.J.) that, in the past, Congress had rejected the kind of income- ceiling for student aid the administration is again seeking, "because we learned that an absolute income test is not the most valid way to decide whether a family can (afford college) for one, two or three students."

Bennett told her he knew "this will have impacts on some people that are difficult" because "we cannot be as attuned to the specific circumstances and conditions as we would like. . . . Nevertheless, to make the savings that we feel we need to make, we have to draw the line somewhere."

When I told him that didn't sound like much of a defense of the equity of the proposal, he said, "David Stockman and his colleagues tell me that this is the best way to do it, and the fairest, all factors considered. They may be right. I want to look at it myself."

My feeling, leaving Bennett's office, was that the education secretary is a man who will give good speeches on his philosophy of education while Stockman goes merrily on, cutting the programs that allow kids to go to school. That is a dangerous combination.