Champaign-Urbana, Ill. — Reflective of the relatively quiet, uninvolved mood on college campuses these days was a visit of conservative Republican Congressman Dan Crane to a University of Illinois political science class during the early stages of the 1982 campaign.
''Crane came off well in this class of some 125 students,'' reports James D. Nowlan, who heads the public administration program for the university's political science department. ''Since he favored student-aid cuts, I thought the students would be standing up and shouting and shaking their fists at him. But it didn't happen.''
Nowlan, along with other keen observers of the university scene here, says that this relative disengagement from emotional commitment to political positions also extends to the faculty members.
''Certainly,'' says Nowlan, ''there is some resistance among my fellow teachers to the President and what he is doing. But I find no intensity in it. They certainly are not storming the barricades.''
There is, indeed, a pro-nuclear-freeze movement on campus. And it drew a large crowd at a rally last fall. But the core group, while very active, is small. During the Kent State period of the Vietnam war this campus was in great ferment. It now seems only marginally aroused over the nuclear-bomb issue.
A visiting reporter had assumed that on the eve of a national election he would find the liberal elements on campus, particularly among those associated with the liberal arts, fuming over the President. But not so.
''When Reagan became President,'' one such liberal professor told me, ''I was certain that by this time there would be a lot of university people angry at him and what he was doing. And I'm amazed that it hasn't come about.''
''Oh, there is much unhappiness with Reagan,'' he went on, ''but less than you would think. It's strange. But Reagan's very favorable image - being such a likable fellow - tends to blunt the intensity of the feeling against him and his policies - even among professors. Reagan tends to disarm them with his personality.''
Another veteran campus observer puts it this way: ''Reagan is so reassuring. For many students - and faculty members, too - Reagan is their favorite uncle and John Wayne rolled into one.''
But another university ''expert'' believes there is a further explanation for this lack of passionate opposition to Reagan on campus.
''One reason there is not more articulation of resentment to Reagan,'' he said, ''is that there is no alternative to rally around - no clear-cut alternative policy and no alternative leader. The liberals here don't find Kennedy all that attractive. And they don't see anyone else they can identify with.''
Among the students themselves there seems to be widespread apathy about public issues and public figures. It was estimated by one college official that about 20 percent of the students eligible to vote - ''no more than 25 percent'' - would go to the polls on Nov. 2.
One often-expressed explanation for this apathy, which one finds on college campuses throughout the United States these days, is that students are preoccupied with their career pursuits - and are, for the most part, satisfied with their lives.
Also, with the recession, students have become more concerned about getting jobs - and this has added to the vigor and conscientiousness with which they attack their books.
''We have 850 majors in political science,'' says Nowlan, ''and of these almost three-fourths want to go to a first-rate law school. Obviously, they are all aware that to get into such a law school they will have to do very well. So they work exceedingly hard - and don't pay too much attention to what is going on in the outside world.''
Most of the letters received by the Champaign-Urbana News Gazette come from people associated with the university. Those letters that relate to the presidency usually reflect Reagan's appeal. And even those writers who are the most critical of Reagan never depict him as a mean, evil man carrying out a cruel policy.
The first place to look for a liberal revolt against a president is on a college campus. Unhappiness with Reagan, so far as it goes at this university, is not even close to a revolt. And this says a lot about the President's continuing appeal - and his ability to disarm those who would be expected to be his severest critics.