by Jane Smiley. Knopf, 416 pages, $24.00.

Ms. Smiley’s novel describes faculty intrigues and student confusions at a cow college that has developed into a state university without altogether outgrowing its agricultural past. The place is in an uproar over finances. The blatherskite governor considers Moo U. a nest of liberal vipers who waste taxpayers’ money. The academics consider the governor a malign nincompoop and scramble to cut costs. An entrepreneur sees an opportunity to camouflage his latest piece of international chicanery. The cast of characters includes the pampered hog Earl Butz, surreptitiously maintained in a building known as Old Meats. Earl is one character who knows exactly what he should do and does it. He eats. He also appears to be a cannon cracker with a smoldering fuse, and it is typical of this not-quite-serious, not-quitesatirical, multi-targeted novel that his explosion, when it finally comes, amounts to no more than a damp fusee.