One of the most interesting aspects of the novel MOO by Jane Smiley is the manner in which it uses the university environment as a way into analysis of the clash of people from different cultural backgrounds.
One of the most interesting episodes is the arrival of Mary Jackson, an African-American student, on campus. Being one of the few people from her inner city world to succeed in graduating high school and going to college, she has spent hard-earned money on a new wardrobe only to discover that her sense of style is not at all a good fit for the sensibility of rural Iowa. In this clash of fashions, we see the beginnings of the theme of racism in the novel.
The protest against mining in Costa Rica is an important example of the conflict between the environmental sensibility of the faculty and students and the exploitative attitude of TransNationalAmerica Corporation. While the corporation cares only about profit, the academics are concerned about everything from exploitation of developing nations by rich ones and the role of rain forests in ameliorating global climate change.
Bo Jones' unofficial research program is comic in many ways, but also shows an example of how academic culture is based on the dedication of researchers to their projects, even if they are not funded or approved.