President Reagan made history this week with the nomination of the first Hispanic-American to ever hold a Cabinet post.

Politics clearly paid a big part in the selection of Lauro Cavazos, 61-year-old president of 23,000-student Texas Tech University, as new Secretary of Education after William Bennett leaves the post Sept. 20.But when did politics not play a part in Cabinet appointments? When this much has been conceded, let it also be noted that the selection of Cavazos was made without sacrificing quality.

The nomination of Cavazos comes a month after Vice President George Bush promised to appoint a Hispanic to his Cabinet if he is elected president. Cavazos' ethnic background admittedly could help swing voters not only in Texas but also California, states with large Hispanic populations and big votes in the Electoral College. If confirmed by the Senate, Cavazos could remain on the job if Bush succeeds Reagan in the Oval Office.

But it's unfair to both Cavazos and to Hispanics to assume that politics was the overriding consideration in his selection. In 1980, Cavazos was recommended to the Reagan transition team for education secretary by then-Sen. John G. Tower of Texas and other southwestern conservatives. But Cavazos withdrew his name from consideration because he had just been named president of Texas Tech. Last May, he announced he would resign in mid-1989 and return to teaching.

For eight years, Cavazos has been president of both Texas Tech and its Health Sciences Center while continuing to teach. A distinguished educator who holds masters and doctorate degrees in zoology and physiology, he has been an anatomy professor at the Medical College of Virginia, Tufts University, and Texas Tech. He also has served as a department chairman and dean of the Tufts School of Medicine.

Well-known throughout the Hispanic community, he has long championed efforts to lower the high school drop-out rate largely through grassroots efforts aimed at strengthening the family.

Clearly, Lauro Cavazos would be an asset to any administration, and that's all that should matter. The Senate should confirm him - unless it wants to be remembered for rejecting the first Hispanic nominee to the Cabinet.