Moo explores the life of a Midwestern university, affectionately called “Moo U” because of its agricultural orientation. The university is under pressure to change with the times—it faces budget cuts, new courses are crowding out the traditional fields, and both faculty and staff are diversifying. Author Jane Smiley takes a scattered approach to her topic. Rather than focus on a single plot line or primary set of characters, she intertwines many stories of the university’s life, mixing perspectives of faculty, students, administrators, and staff.
The primary pressure on Moo U is financial. Facing budget cuts of several million dollars, the administration cuts programs and steps up fund-raising efforts, including grant-seeking by the administration and individual faculty members. Monetary pressures force an alliance with TransNationalAmerica Corporation, run by Arlen Martin, a corporate financier who engages in various questionable practices. Martin insinuates himself, through various corporate entities, into numerous projects at Moo U. He funds research into false pregnancy in cows that would stimulate milk production, combined with cloning to produce herds of the best milk producers; a museum of the history of chicken production that would save Morgantown Hall, a former abattoir affectionately known as “Old Meats”; and a study of the effects of gold mining under a virgin cloud forest in Costa Rica. When the backlash from the last of those projects hits, TransNational faces pressures of its own and withdraws all funding, putting the university at even greater risk.
Various story lines show how people at Moo U react to changes. Chairman X, head of the horticulture department and an avowed communist, fears loss of his prized gardens. He becomes incensed when he hears of the plan to mine gold in Costa Rica...
(The entire section is 755 words.)