COLUMBIA, MO. -- If she keeps at it, Prof. Robbie Lieberman ought to earn a battlefield promotion for the combat of teaching. She isn't under attack from her students or from her University of Missouri faculty colleagues. Both groups respect Lieberman as a gifted and well-credentialed professional. The hits she is taking are from reactionary alarmists who see Lieberman's course, Introduction to Peace Studies, as the "equivalent of academic AIDS."
''Subversive 'Peace Studies' Courses Spreading in American Schools'' reads the headline on the current bulletin from the Foundation Endowment. The Alexandria, Va., group, perpetually fretting about ''how communism is spreading throughout the West and Third World countries via infiltration of unions, media and education systems,'' includes the University of Missouri as one of the scenes of subversion. Others range from Georgetown, Colgate and Catholic universities to Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota: ''These courses as taught in American schools are very dangerous.''
Some of the dangers lurking in Lieberman's course are found in her syllabus. The essays being read this semester include Martin Luther King Jr.'s ''Letter From a Birmingham Jail,'' Margaret Mead's ''Warfare Is Only an Invention,'' Erich Maria Remarque''s ''All Quiet on the Western Front,'' George Kennan's ''Two Views of the Soviet Problem'' and Richard Barnet's ''The Illusion of Security.''
Lieberman writes in her syllabus: ''Some of the material is likely to arouse deep feelings and passionate commitment to particular viewpoints. There will be many class discussions, in which disagreement will be encouraged and welcomed. . . . You are expected to think critically and develop your own point of view.''
Some subversion. Fringe groups on the right used to see communists behind every bush. Now they're in front of every blackboard. The Foundation Endowment, whose president is M. Stanton Evans, an old-line conservative milk horse ever hauling right-wing causes down dead-end streets, is predictably irrational.
Other opponents of the kind of courses offered by Lieberman should be expected to know better, but keep on shrieking nevertheless. One of these is Herbert London, a dean at New York University. In an article, ''Peace in the Classroom,'' in the current Newsweek "On Campus," he is quoted: ''Peace studies is the academic liberal's latest effort to impose his brand of peace on an unwary student population. . . . In the 1920s, people who taught such nonsense at least had the courage to define their position as pacifism. Their views didn't masquerade as a new scholarly discipline.''
The Evans crowd sees subversion, London sees manipulation and fakery. Both oppugners need an optician for new lenses. Is Lieberman, who directs Missouri's 16-year-old peace-studies program, lying to her students and concealing her brand of peace when she brings to class speakers from the nearby Whiteman Air Force Base or assigns Jeane Kirkpatrick's essay, ''The Lesser Evil Over the Greater Evil''?
If peace-studies or conflict-resolution courses aren't needed or aren't credible, why are students enrolling in them? A World Policy Institute study by Barbara Wein reports that majors, minors and concentrations in peace studies were offered at 235 universities and colleges last year. Forty-six percent of all universities and colleges have at least one course, up from 14 percent in 1979.
The numbers doubtlessly send the right into louder and longer mouth-frothing fits. It can relax. Most peace-studies programs are underfunded by administrators and overlooked by deans. Professors such as Lieberman hole up in offices smaller than the janitor's closet. They keep their programs funded by being creative scroungers.
In the past five years, I have come to know several dozen peace-studies teachers and have been one myself. All that's at work is marketplace demand. Students -- the consumers harried by annual tuition hikes of 8 to 10 percent -- want for their money something more enlightening than sterile courses that offer no intellectual options to violence from wars, capital punishment and harming the environment.
Courses in war studies flourish -- 1,200 campuses have ROTC programs, gorged by an annual $530 million from the Pentagon. Robbie Lieberman is aware of the imbalance. ''Every college student in Missouri has access to an ROTC program,'' she says, ''but I can tell you they don't have access to a peace-studies program. It won't be academically fair until they do.''
The issue is options. From early grades, American children are taught that wars have been necessary and that violence, though messy, has been effective. Violence is portrayed in children's cartoons as fun and in films as manliness. Peace-studies courses offer another view of resolving conflict, as found in the theories and actions of King, Gandhi, Addams, Muste, Day, Rankin and other heroes of nonviolence.
If you trust students -- which evidently few on the far right do -- let them choose what to put into their hearts, a philosophy of nonviolence or an acceptance of killing. The popularity of peace-studies courses shows that students are choosing wisely