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A more confident and relaxed Secretary of Education has been making appearances at hearings and meetings around the country recently.

Terrel H. Bell, who has frequently exhibited a troubled, harried countenance as he defended the Reagan Administration's education plans, is said by associates to have emerged triumphant from the Administration's latest internal budget deliberations. He is benefiting, they say, from the new "moderate" stance on education issues taken by the Administration.

Since early February, when the Administration unveiled an education budget that was considerably larger than 1982's version, the Secretary has even begun including jokes in his speeches to education groups--groups that had previously given the Secretary a less-than-cordial reception.

In addressing special educators, he was heard to ask, upon receiving a glass of water: "Am I getting this because my voice is gravelly or because my speech is too dry?"

At a recent meeting with state education officials, Mr. Bell opened his address by inviting those in the back of the room to take empty chairs in the front. When few complied, he quipped, "Well, I guess some of you would rather take this standing up."

The time came for questions from the state leaders. "Take me on," Mr. Bell urged. "If I can't handle them, I'll try to obfuscate."

In the Defense of ...

The Administration's 1984 budget proposal calls for the elimination of the $138-million program that supports public, college, and research libraries. Donald J. Senese, the Education Department official in charge of the program, defended that proposal before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on education last week, arguing that state and local governments and private sources would support libraries in the absence of federal funds.

But Mr. Senese elicited a strong rebuttal from Senator Mark O. Hatfield, Republican of Oregon.

"Over my high school's doors were the phrases, 'enter to grow in wisdom' and 'education--the defense of the state,"' the Senator said. "I reflect on those phrases and realize the importance of education to the life of the state," he said.

Senator Hatfield, who chairs the full Appropriations Committee--which has ultimate responsibility for determining the education budget--added: "I hope you don't anticipate being out of business in this field next year."

A Long and Successful ...

At the same budget hearing, Senator Hatfield wished "longevity" to Manuel J. Justiz, the new director of the National Institute of Education, the education-research agency.

He added the hope that Mr. Justiz, the institute's fifth director in three years, would "get on with the mandated purposes [of the nie] and be free of this ideological infighting."

"The department was used as a dumping ground for every person who felt he had something owed him," he said. "Let's get out of this rut.''--ew

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