A Style section article Thursday about ties between Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and public officials incorrectly identified Hale Champion, executive dean of the school and former undersecretary of health, education and welfare under Joseph A. Califano Jr., as a member of the selection committee that chose Califano as a recipient of the school's public service medal.

Edwin Meese III, the combative and conservative attorney general, will venture next month to Harvard University, the cradle of academic liberalism, to accept an award that has kicked up a political ruckus on the Cambridge campus.

The public service medal for Meese, one of a series being bestowed by Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, has drawn rhetorical fire from such liberal Harvard law professors as Laurence Tribe, who declared that Meese has "a limited understanding of what justice means . . . He was an Oakland prosecutor who was lucky enough to know Ronald Reagan."

Meese has served as a lightning rod in the debate, but the awards have also raised a spate of questions about connections between the school and the public figures it chooses to honor.

The question, as law Professor Alan Dershowitz put it to a Harvard Crimson reporter, is whether the graduate school has become "an opportunistic place where career-oriented people can butter up those in power."

While serving as counselor to President Reagan, Meese helped the Kennedy School obtain a White House contract to train senior administration officials, which now brings the school $139,000 a year.

Another medal recipient is Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, a former member of the school's advisory committee and former editor of the Harvard Crimson. Kennedy School Dean Graham Allison, who picked the award winners, helped lobby for renewal of a $1.6 million Pentagon contract under which the school teaches management skills to senior defense officials. To complete the circle, Allison became a $260-a-day consultant to Weinberger last summer.

Allison has declined repeated requests for an interview since the flap erupted last week. In the time-honored tradition of the politicians and bureaucrats trained at the school, he issued a statement instead.

"Our business at the Kennedy School is training leaders for government," Allison's statement said. "While individuals at the school feel most passionately about their political or policy convictions, the school applies no ideological litmus test and endorses no particular point of view or political party." He said the school refused to "be timid and choose only those who are noncontroversial."

But one Kennedy School official offered another view of the awards. "One thing the school has done very well under Allison is the solicitation of money, in return for which they give a piece of Harvard," he said. "It's a marketing of the reputation of Harvard . . . a trade, a commercial transaction."

The other two award winners ranged across the political spectrum, but not outside the Harvard club. One went to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), brother of the late president for whom the school is named and a member of its advisory committee. The other recipient is Joseph A. Califano Jr., a Harvard Law graduate and former secretary of health, education and welfare. One of the five members of the award selection panel is the school's executive dean, Hale Champion, who was Califano's undersecretary at HEW. (Only Yale graduate Meese lacks a Harvard degree.)

Allison said the awards, marking the 50th anniversary of Harvard's school of government, recognize "longevity, commitment and accomplishments in public service."

But the selection of Meese has brought a special kind of outcry. Tribe, a frequent Meese critic, said in an interview that honoring Meese for these qualities "sounds like a joke . . . It looks like a private reward to Ed Meese for coming up to Harvard for some seminars."

Warming to the subject, Tribe said, "The attorney general's public misunderstanding of fundamental constitutional principles is so widely known that even those who agree with him can hardly be proud of his flat-footed articulations of his position."

Tribe also cited alleged improprieties involving Meese that were investigated by an independent counsel, who brought no charges. "If distinction just means climbing, regardless of what values one tramples on the way up, then he's had a very distinguished career . . . John Mitchell was also attorney general of the United States," he said.

At the Justice Department, spokesman Terry Eastland took the assault in stride. "It's good to see that freedom of speech survives, even at the Harvard Law School," he said. "If Ed Meese didn't exist, Larry Tribe would have to invent such a person in order to keep his name in the newspapers every day."

School spokesman Naomi Chase said the potential for conflicts "is a problem the Kennedy School lives with . . . Almost everyone on our staff does some kind of consulting to the government."

Chase said Meese was "instrumental" in arranging the 1982 contract under which the school continues to train sub-Cabinet officials. But she said Allison was not involved in the school's successful competitive bid for a $1.6 million Pentagon training contract in 1983.

However, shortly before he was hired last June as an adviser to Weinberger (the Pentagon called him "an intellectual strategic reserve"), Allison lobbied for the successful renewal of the contract. He said in a "Dear Cap" letter that the program was "exciting" and "will prove to be of enduring value to the country."

Chase said she sees no conflict of interest and that Allison formally removed himself from contract talks with the Pentagon after signing on with Weinberger.