In the celebrational marking of the birth of the Prince of Peace, some political news about peace is also worth celebrating. Last week, a committee was formed to protect the integrity of the newly formed U.S. Institute of Peace. This is the scholastic enterprise to which Congress, after nine years of debate, gave $14 million for research, training and education in "the process and state of peace."

Last summer and fall, the legislation vatives feared that an independent peace institute would become a leftist haven for polemical soundoffs eager for a war of press releases against the Pentagon. A compromise amendment installed the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and the president of the National Defense University as four voting members of the 15-person board of directors.

The legislation might have been lost altogether if Sen. Mark Hatfield had not attached it to the $274 billion defense authorization bill that was certain to pass. Supporters put aside regrets that the creation of their Peace Institute had to be joined to the most extravagant military-spending bill in the nation's history.

Another gagging reality involved its two-year authorization. Congress will decide, after 24 months of giving peace a chance, whether or not some catastrophic mistake has been made. After all, these are tight times. The $14 million might be used by the Pentagon's musicians, whose military bands are struggling by this year on $139 million.

It has been undiscourageable realists more than the purists who bargained the Peace Institute through Congress, and realists are now at work to see that no further weakenings occur. The immediate threat is that he 15-person board -- actually 11, excluding the automatic four -- will become a repository for hack appointees of the Reagan administration. Something more than retired generals, real-estate brokers from Orange County or board chairmen of Colorado beer companies are needed. Reagan once tried to do in the Legal Services Corporation by appointing people who were opposed to it, and he might well indulge similar pranks with the Peace Institute.

The reverse fear is that Reagan, who has proclaimed himself the world's most ardent seeker of peace, may use the institute self-servingly. He will hype its mission and identify himself with it. He will express the regret that it's too bad the Soviets don't have a similar effort, and then count on the media to forget that the Reagan administration opposed for four years the institute's enabling legislation. Those who came this far with the institute are braced for anything.

The committee that is monitoring the appointment process is only part of the larger coalition of citizens that thinks the Peace Institute is needed and can be effective. One of these is Patricia Washburn of the National Peace Academy Foundation in Washington, D.C. "The colleges want in," she says, referring to "the tremendous amount of interest" from teachers and students who want to create or expand peace studies and conflict resolution programs in their schools.

Of course the interest is tremendous. Large numbers of colleges and universities have teachers who had their ideals shaped by the antiwar and civil-rights movements of the 1960s but now see themselves talking to students left cold by social protest. The faculty's hope is that at least nonviolence and peace studies can be brought into the classroom through books and lectures. At the moment, more than 80 colleges are offering either degrees or interdisciplinary programs in peace sciences.

One of the pioneers in the rapidly expanding field is the Rev. Richard McSorley of Georgetown University's Center for Peace Studies. At a recent Washington gathering of peace educators, McSorley spoke of both the steady progress that is occurring and of the results he sees year after year in his own classroom.

For proof -- moving, memorable proof -- McSorley read to the group an evaluation a senior gave of his course. The young woman was a government major: "Our textbooks and professors scoffed at the naive idea of a world community and interdependence. All we heard were terms like the struggle for power, force, deterrence by nuclear weapons and the intent to use them. It is frightening how quickly I fell into thinking that that was how the world was, and that I must accept it that way: The world's problems were too complex for solutions by cooperation, peace and nonviolence. I thank your course for a 360-degree turn again, back to the 'naive' position, which I will not forget again. It is the only sane position, the only right position, the only available position. Thanks again."