by Dan Curry

The Chronicle of Higher Education

September 14, 2001

The roar of leaf blowers, the chatter of television sets, the clanking of metal chairs–it was all enough to send Ted Rueter, a visiting professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, over the edge.

“The gods sent me to LA to become upset about noise pollution,” he says. As a result, UCLA is a quieter place this semester. TV’s in the student union have been turned down. Trash collectors have been told to be gentler in their work.

“We’re very happy with their progress,” says Josiane M. Henen, a junior who worked with Mr. Rueter.

The quiet crusade started last spring, when Mr. Rueter, teaching a popular class on social activism, decided to lead a group of students in a campaign to rid the campus of ambient cacophony. “Noise is physically dangerous,” Mr. Rueter explains. “There are gastrointestinal changes, there’s hearing loss. There have been heart attacks due to noise. Not to mention all of the sleep deprivation.”

The students cataloged the racket around them and sent a list of what they wanted to muffle to the chancellor, Albert Carnesale. Among the targets: cell-phone chitchat, car alarms, lawn mowers, street sweepers, video games, the swimsuit dryer in a men’s locker room, the rumble of predawn trash collection, the pitter-pat of tennis balls in the morning, even the ding of elevators.

University officials made some concessions, but Jack Powazek, assistant vice chancellor for facilities management, says some of the professors concerns were over the top. “He has very sensitive ears. He was picking up on things we did a quarter-mile and a half-mile away.”

With his stint at UCLA over, Mr. Rueter has taken his cause to Sacramento, where he’s started a lobbying group, Noise Free America. “There are so many leaf blowers. I think that’s idiotic. Use a rake. Use a broom.”