An article yesterday about Ernest W. Lefever identified him as director of Georgetown University's Ethics and Public Policy Center. The center terminated its association with Georgetown in 1980 and is now an independent entity. Lefevercontinues as its director.

Ernest W. Lefever, a passionate critic of the Carter administration's human rights policy, has been occupying the office of assistant secretary of state for human rights in recent days amid growing speculation that President Reagan plansto give him that job.

Such a move, more than any other action yet taken by the Reagan administration, would mark a symbolic turning on its head of the foreign policy stance with which the the United States was identified during the Carter administration.

According to the speculation, the appointment of Lefever, an advocate of improving relations with authoritarian regimes friendly to the United States, would be a conciliatory gesture by Reagan and Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. toward Republican Party ultrtanconservatives angered by Haig's failure to include ideological hard-liners in his policy-making team at the State Department.

Although rumors of Lefever's impending appointment have beencirculating widely for several days, the White House and the State Department refused yesterday to confirm that he has been chosen for the post.

However, Lefever is known to have spent considerable time recently in the department's Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, occupying the office reserved for the assistant secretary and receiving briefings on the bureau's operations.

If Lefever gets the job, it is certain to trigger a controversy similar in intensity to the one that swirled around his predecessor, Patt Derian. In Lefever's case, though, the controversy would be akin to turning inside out the arguments that involved Derian and her stewardship of human rights policy. t

Lefever, an ultraconservative scholar who is director of Georgetown University's Ethics and Public Policy Center, has been among the harshest and most perisistent critics of the human rights ideas that Derian made a major part of U.S. foreign policy withthen-President Carter's outspoken backing.

In particular, Lefever strongly attacked the Carter administration's tactic of using foreign aid and public criticism to put pressureon authoritarian regimes -- among them South Korea, South Africa and the deposed former governments in Iran and Nicaragua -- that are anticommunist and disposed to side with the United States in East-West conflicts.

That attitude is consistent with the positions taken by Reagan during the campaign, and Lefever's appointment would be in line with the clear signals given by the president and Haig that they plan to deemphasize greatly the influence weilded by the human rights bureau during the Carter administration and put their mainstress on military and strategic goals, and terrorism.

The new administration is understood to have weighed the possibility of eliminating the human rights bureau and dispersing its functions throughout other parts of the State Department. However, it abandoned that idea because it would require approval by Congress, which contains strong pro-human-rights forces, especially in the Democratic-controlled House.

Instead, the administration appears to be moving toward putting the bureau and its operations under the direction of someone sucy as Lefever who is sympathetic to the ideas of Republican rightits like Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, who had threatened to cause problems for some of Haig's key subordinates unless they were balanced by some appointees withclearly conservative views.

Lefever's attitudes toward human rights were set forth in a 1978 article for a journal published by the rightist Heritage Foundation. In it, he argued that the greatest threat to human liberty comes not fromsmall authoritarian regimes but "messianic totalitarian states" such as the Soviet Union, and that it is counterproductive to try and force American values on politically underdeveloped states whose support the United States should be cultivating.

Over the years, Lefever has been involved in a number of controversies, including criticism of the activities of the World Council of Churches in the Third World, and has authored a report critizing the coverage of national security issues by the CBS television network.

Recently, he has been the target of charges that his institute accepted large financial contributions from the Nestle Corp. after initiating a study favorable to Nestle's much-criticized sales of infant formula in developing countries.