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The White House indicated last week that President Reagan will nominate Chester E. Finn Jr., a professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University, as the new research chief at the Education Department.

Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah and chairman of the committee that would have to clear Mr. Finn's nomination, received preliminary notification last week from the White House personnel office that Mr. Finn would soon be named to the post of assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, said an aide on the Labor and Human Resources Committee. That post is held by Donald J. Senese, who will step down on May 1.

Mr. Finn, a former aide to President Nixon and a drafter of the law creating the National Institute of Education, may preside over the merger of the nie and the National Center for Education Statistics--a move that Secretary of Education William J. Bennett is expected to attempt.

Mr. Finn was recently named to the board of directors of an educational-computer firm, United School Services of America Inc.--a wholly owned subsidiary of the Control Data Corporation. "I don't think that [membership] is going to cause him any grief," in the confirmation process, said an aide to Senator Hatch.

John D. Klenk, an Education Department official, cancelled a speech he was to give at a Louisiana confer-ence last month rather than delete references to tuition tax credits and education vouchers, as a state official had requested.

Mr. Klenk, the director of planning and evaluation, was scheduled to speak at a March 23 conference on parental participation in schools co-sponsored by the Louisiana and U.S. departments of education.

Mr. Klenk said he was instructed to remove the references from the text of his speech because of the "very volatile political situation" and the strong opposition of the state's National Education Association affiliate to his statements in support of tax credits and vouchers.

He said he was told to do so by Anne Stewart, an associate superintendent of education, after he arrived in Baton Rouge on the night of the 22nd.

In an interview last week, he described the incident as "bizarre, truly unbelievable."

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