The Howard University administration, which depends on federal money for roughly half of its $245 million budget, last summer killed an essay in the university magazine that sharply criticized the Reagan administration's proposed cutbacks in student loans and other programs benefiting black students.

The article by Professor Robert J. Cummings, Howard's director of African studies and research, was already set in type in preparation for publication in last July's "Comment" section of the university magazine "New Directions."

The essay, which accused the Reagan administration of "indifference" to black students, was slated to run at a time when Howard's budget was being considered by Congress and when Howard officials were lobbying Reagan officials to assure the university's continued charmed life in securing large amounts of federal money.

Cummings' piece was ordered pulled from the magazine by Roger Estep, vice president for development and university relations and a top aide to Howard President James E. Cheek. Estep said he removed the piece because of two errors in a paragraph dealing with Howard finances.

"We didn't run it because it was not factually correct and that is the end of it," he said. He said it was too late to correct the errors and also said he decided to kill the essay without consulting Cheek.

In a separate action, Cheek recently announced plans to reevaluate all university publications and develop "control policies," a move which the administration said is aimed at cost control but which some faculty said they fear could mean censorship.

Cummings, who called Estep's action "a horrendous act" in a letter to him last July, said yesterday he believes the administration killed his essay because it found his ideas offensive, especially since it appeared to directly criticize Vice President George Bush, Howard's commencement speaker.

Cummings said that in his article he "made the mistake of speaking to Bush's speech and Bush was an invited guest. I guess Howard thinks you don't invite someone to your house and criticize them."

Bush, in his May 9 commencement speech, had assured the Howard audience of Reagan's commitment to increase, not cut, funding for historically black institutions. Cummings' commentary said such promises are part of the Reagan administration's "official gimmick" toward blacks, because increased funding to some institutions would be more than offset by deep cuts in Guaranteed Student Loans, National Direct Student Loans, Basic Educational Opportunity Grants and other programs often used by black students.

The two errors cited by Estep were Cummings' mention of Howard's budget being $133 million last year, while that figure is only the federal portion; and a reference to a proposed $13.9 million Senate budget cut, a cut which has not yet been actually implemented, Estep said.

"This is not an issue of academic freedom," Estep said, adding that his action only amounted to exerting editorial control to assure accuracy in a Howard "house organ" rather than curbing a teacher's freedom of thought.

In place of the Cummings piece, "New Directions" ran a six-paragraph description of what it called a "festive mood" at commencement. Noting the presence of anti-Bush protesters, the article said, "Clearly, freedom of speech carried the winning card."

Cheek told the University Senate on Oct. 22 that "we must inventory Howard publications and develop control policies. An assessment of the number, quality and contribution of the publication to the Howard community will be made," according to a report in "The Networker," a publication of Howard's School of Communications.

Cheek's statement sparked a Nov. 17 resolution by the 81-member faculty of the communications school that asked Cheek to "clarify" his intentions at the Dec. 17 meeting of the university senate. "What does the president mean in his stated determination to 'control' publications?" the resolution asks. "Specifically, how does such control differ from censorship?"

Cheek could not be reached for comment, but Estep and Paul Hathaway, the director of publications, said Cheek's intent is to inventory the publications issued by Howard's 17 schools and colleges and determine how well they serve the university community.