Howard University President James Cheek yesterday broke his silence on the problems plaguing the school's atheltic department, issuing a statement saying he intends to meet with a group of disgruntled athletes and athletic department administrators in an effort to resolve their differences.

Cheek's three-paragraph statement was prompted by the actions of a group of Howard athletes who boycotted their Tuesday night awards banquet and president the university with a list of 18 "nonnegotiable" demands to be met by the end of this semester.

"I am asking my vice president for student affairs, Dr. Carl Anderson, to schedule a meeting today or as soon as possible with representatives of the protesting student-athletes and officials of the athletic department," the statement began.

"I deeply regret that some efforts are being made to use the media to settle issues concerning Howard University and its athletic program.

"A preliminary report of the Special Task Force acknowledges some legitimate grievances of our student-athletes. The University pledges to address these problems in good faith and to remedy them, to the extent that our financial resources permit, as soon as possible."

A spokesman in the president's office said Cheek was unavailable for comment. Anderson, whom Cheek has appointed to oversee the athletic department, said yesterday the meeting will take place "as soon as I can identify the (student) leadership and set up a time that is convenient for all parties involved."

Anderson said it would be "inappropriate for me to respond" to the recent actions of the disgruntled athletes. "I want to sit down and discuss the grievances," Anderson said.

An athletic department spokesman said Athletic Director Leo Miles is unavailable for comment and is referring all questions to the department of university relations. Miles has been repeatedly criticized as being responsible for what the athletes and soccer Coach Lincoln Phillips call "gross incompetence and negligence."

The athletes said they were hoping to meet last night or today to discuss the effectiveness of their boycott and plan future actions. A spokesman for the 18-member intercollegiate athletic committee, investigating last fall's complaints from members of the football team, said the committee's report will be issued to Cheek in the next few days.