Stanford, Calif. — Cecilia Burciaga frequently finds herself worrying about the people who aren't there. At her college graduation in 1972 she was one of four Hispanics in a class of nearly 1,000. ''Where are all the others?'' she asked herself. At a high school graduation this year she found herself looking at the audience and recalling that only 4 of every 10 Hispanic teen-agers graduate from high school.
''I say to myself, 'Four of you made it. Six of you didn't.' I have to see the faces to remember the ones not there.''
It is, in fact, one of Ms. Burciaga's official tasks at Stanford University to remember the people who aren't there and try her best to get them there. As an assistant provost she handles Stanford's faculty affirmative-action program. It is her job to keep alive the university's efforts to diversify its faculty at a time interest in such goals is dying.
''There is a yawn now on those issues,'' she said. ''The civil rights era is over.'' But the struggle is not over, according to Ms. Burciaga, either at the university or elsewhere. And so she keeps working, looking for new ways to get the outsiders in.
Her job at Stanford has made her one of the top-ranking Hispanic women in higher education, and that distinction, in turn, has extended her influence beyond the red-tiled roofs of Stanford.
The position is ''a burden and a blessing,'' Ms. Burciaga said. The prestige of Stanford gets her invitations to speak and to serve on committees and boards to represent the Hispanic community and to talk about the concerns of women and minorities.
All of those opportunities, however, come at a personal cost. They take her away from her job at Stanford and from her family more than she would like. They make her a public figure.
''It is never easy to be the one and only anything,'' she said. ''It's exhausting.'' But as interest in equal access and opportunity fades with the years, Ms. Burciaga is taking advantage of every opportunity she can fit on her crowded calendar.
She has worked with the Educational Testing Service, been a consultant to the federal government and several major foundations, and served as a presidential appointee to the National Advisory Committee on Women. And she is on boards from Bronx Community College to the Palo Alto Red Cross.
''You can do it as long as you have realistic and flexible expectations of what it means to be a professional person, a mother, and a wife,'' she said.
Although she questions the effect of her work at times and worries about the effect on her own two children, she doesn't quit. The work is too important, and there's so much of it to do. She can rattle off statistics to demonstrate just how much.
At Stanford, for example, there are just under 1,200 faculty members. One hundred of them are women. And this year the university lost one of its minority faculty members, bringing their number to 50. ''And that took a decade,'' said Ms. Burciaga, throwing her hands up in a gesture that combined both amazement and frustration.
Getting more women, blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians into the faculty at Stanford means doing more than distributing resumes and saying please. ''It is the faculty that hire faculty,'' she said. ''They know best how to find their own animals. That means faculty members have got to want it.''
Although there is no open resistance to affirmative action among the Stanford faculty, there is apathy, she said. And there is often an attitude that there are no qualified candidates.
''You begin by talking,'' she said.
When she talks she encourages departments to find out who the talented people in their fields are early in their careers and to cultivate a relationship with those potential candidates by bringing them to Stanford for postdoctoral work or for the summer.
Ms. Burciaga also talks to departments about the ways they might take advantage of Stanford's Affirmative Action Fund. The $100,000 fund helps departments create positions for women and minority members. If, for example, a department finds an American Indian who would be perfect for a part-time opening , but who can't afford to work part time, the fund can be used to make that position full time.
And she talks about Stanford's obligation to help educate the ever-increasing Hispanic population of California. ''Stanford is an institution in California and it has a responsibility to educate the people who live here,'' she said. ''It will continue to be in the state of California, and by 1990, 25 percent of the population of California will be Hispanic. The connection between the university and the community goes beyond Palo Alto.''
A Stanford education is a valuable asset, she said, especially for minorities who don't have access to other routes to success. ''I am not convinced you get a better education,'' said Ms. Burciaga, who attended the University of California. ''I am sure you have been anointed, given a network that gives you, for right or wrong, some special access.''
Perhaps one of Ms. Burciaga's most important points concerns the need for diversity - how Stanford benefits from adding women and minority members to its faculty.
A mix of different kinds of people brings different perspectives to scholarship and teaching, Ms. Burciaga said. It is not just the female and minority students who benefit from seeing people like themselves in roles of authority and competence, she said. ''It is as important for the men in industrial engineering courses to be answering to Prof. Mary Somebody,'' she said. ''With minority faculty, oftentimes the statement is more profound for the white population.''
She said her goal is to decentralize the school's efforts to add diversity, to make it a faculty, not an administrative, function. When faculty members say they want to do something about the lack of diversity, the affirmative-action program will be over, she said.
''The question now is how do you get this process rooted,'' Ms. Burciaga said.
According to Provost Hastorf, Burciaga is effective, and he credits her hard work and her ability to negotiate. ''She brings to it assiduous attention to keeping people's attention focused on (the affirmative-action program),'' he said. ''She has made herself a central person. People know about her.''