Jane Smiley's Academic Carnival: Rooting for Ethics at Moo U.
“I cannot recall a time when American education was not in a ‘crisis.’”
– John Searle, “The Storm over the University”
In Moo (1995), Jane Smiley focuses a sharp, satiric eye upon the political machinations and ambitions of the administration and faculty of Moo U., a large midwestern university well known for its agricultural department. Rife with social and scholarly intrigue, Smiley's narrative admonishes the bankrupt value systems of a powerful institution of higher learning obsessed with its agenda for technological and financial superiority. Smiley allots conspicuous attention to all of the competing voices that comprise Moo U.'s political maelstrom – from the contentious professoriate in the Horticulture and English departments to the institution's dubious administration, an often bemused and vacant student population, and a giant hog named Earl Butz who resides in an abandoned building in the middle of Moo U.'s campus. In Moo, Smiley's pejorative poetics – her satire of contemporary higher education's rampant consumerism – functions on a variety of narrative levels. In addition to her penetrating critique of university life's economic circle – an endlessly negating system of consuming and being consumed – Smiley addresses the interpersonal motivations and imperatives exhibited by her array of administrative, professorial, and undergraduate characters. Smiley devotes particular emphasis to the notion of academic freedom and its sacred and revered place in higher education. In short, how will her characters comport themselves after being afforded with the considerable institutional freedom and power inherent in the university's bureaucracy?