Attorney General Edwin Meese III has postponed his controversial scheduled appearance Wednesday at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, where he was to receive a medal for Distinguished Public Service.

A political eruption over the planned visit, now rescheduled for May 20, has been gaining strength for two weeks. First Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) announced that he would not participate in Harvard's forthcoming anniversary festivities. This September marks the School of Government's 50th year, and the university's 350th. Then more than 50 Kennedy School alumni sent a letter complaining that Meese was an unworthy award recipient. And 41 Harvard Law School professors, including half the 62 full-time faculty members, signed a letter protesting the award.

Kennedy School Dean Graham Allison has apologized in writing to the school's faculty for failing to consult them about the award, but even that has not dimmed the uproar. In The Boston Globe, for example, columnist Mike Barnicle wrote that "the entire Harvard faculty has spent so much time sucking up to power that their lips resemble a huge lemon, and the prospect of getting close to Ed Meese causes them all to pucker right up."

A Justice Department official denied any political overtones. He said Meese had to delay his appearance because of a rescheduled Cabinet meeting Wednesday that will deal with drug policy. "If anything, all the flap over it makes him more determined to go up there," the official said.

Passing Sentence . . .

The Supreme Court yesterday offered a bright new chapter in the annals of judicial prose, in a passage of Justice Byron R. White's concurring opinion in a criminal case, Delaware v. Van Arsdall:

"Being advised by the court that there is an area of cross-examination curtailment that is not only harmless but not a constitutional violation but at the same time an area of curtailment that even though harmless is an infraction of our fundamental charter, the judge will surely tend to permit the examination rather than risk being guilty of misunderstanding the constitutional requirements of a fair trial."