Former American University president Richard E. Berendzen has signed an agreement with leaders of the faculty and administration that would allow him to return in one year as a professor of physics, university officials said yesterday.

The agreement, which must be approved by the university's Board of Trustees, would permit Berendzen to retain his tenured status and come back to the campus he left last spring when he was accused of making obscene telephone calls from his office.

Under the terms of the agreement, Berendzen would have the responsibilities of a senior professor in the physics department and be paid at a level comparable to other senior physics professors.

"That is in the range of $70,000 annually," university Vice President Don Triezenberg said.

The agreement would replace the $1 million settlement authorized by the trustees last month. That offer, which has been widely criticized by students and faculty members, was based on Berendzen's willingness to sever his affiliation with the school and end his tenured status as a physics professor.

Under the new deal, Berendzen still would be entitled to his presidential severance pay, expected to total $380,000.

Four faculty members went to Berendzen's home during the weekend to discuss the terms under which he could begin teaching. Berendzen also had two meetings with Milton Greenberg, the acting president and university provost, according to an attorney for Berendzen.

From those sessions emerged a written agreement under which Berendzen could begin teaching in the spring semester of 1992, Triezenberg said.

Berendzen was willing to return immediately, Triezenberg said. "But Dr. Greenberg felt for him to return now in the current turmoil was not best for him or for the university . . . . The first opportunity that seemed appropriate was 1992."

After the furor that erupted over the trustees' million-dollar offer, Berendzen asked the board to rescind its offer. He said he preferred to keep his faculty position.

The agreement announced yesterday was hailed as a major victory by student groups that opposed the board's plan.

"Students got the agenda on the table, faculty found the best resolution and the board, hopefully, will seal it up when it meets Thursday," said Matt Ward, president of the undergraduate student body.

Ward said the agreement also sends "the best message to the nation and the educational community about what we stand for: that when there is someone with an illness, we can come together, have a community forum and arrive at the best solution."

Berendzen resigned abruptly in April as president of the university. Shortly after that, he checked himself into a sexual disorders clinic. In May, he pleaded guilty to two charges of making obscene telephone calls and was sentenced to two 30-day jail terms, which were suspended on the condition that he continue to get psychiatric counseling.

In early November, the board authorized the buyout. "People felt very strongly that he should just leave completely," one board member said at the time.

But students quickly organized a protest against the board action.

"Our whole purpose was to get the board to follow normal procedures as far as tenure decisions go, as far as buying out {Berendzen's} tenure," said Matt Nicely, president of the student government of the law school. He said students also were concerned about the university outlay of $1 million.

University officials played down the students' role in this latest development in the Berendzen imbroglio.

"For any group to refer to this as a victory or defeat is to miss the point," Triezenberg said. "We are not in a game and we don't keep score. This has been a matter of tension and concern for the entire campus community, and we look forward to having matters resolved."