Politics is hardly a stranger to Howard University in Washington, D.C., a largely black institution dependent on millions of dollars in annual subsidies from the federal government.

So it wasn't all that strange that the university's board of trustees would ask Republican National Chairman Lee Atwater to become a member.

For his part, Atwater believed he had something to contribute to the university. And obviously, his connection with Howard would further his announced campaign to attract more blacks into the GOP.

But activists among the student body didn't take kindly to his presence. They occupied the main administration building and demanded his removal from the board on the grounds that Atwater didn't share their civil rights values and that he helped conduct a presidential campaign they claimed had racist overtones.

When a confrontation between students and police seemed imminent, Atwater resigned from the board. He said he realized there was a potential for violence and didn't want any students to get hurt.

It's hard to escape the conclusion that Atwater acted more responsibly than the students. One student was quoted as saying that Sen. Edward Kennedy would be better for the board. In other words, politics in the management of Howard is OK with the students as long as the politicians pass muster with them.