Umpqua CC Interim President Opts Against Extending Stay
After Lending a Steady Hand, Rita Cavin Plans To Return Home
ROSEBURG, Ore. (AP) — So much is different now for Umpqua Community College interim president Rita Cavin.
Before Oct. 1, she never had to worry about death threats. That all changed after a gunman stormed onto campus and killed eight students and one teacher.
Thanks to a recent agreement with Douglas County, an armed deputy now patrols on campus. A public information officer fields interview requests for Cavin.
The tears fall more often than before. There are the factions who are divided over the need for grief counselors and armed security on campus. Some people think she communicates too much following the tragedy on Oct. 1. Others think she’s not communicating enough.
Her days now include visits to hospitals or with grieving parents who will never see their children come home again. And it makes her think of her own family.
“When I’ve been with the parents, you go, ‘I should be with my kids,’” Cavin said.
And so when the decision was made to extend the search timeline for a new UCC president into late spring or early summer, family concerns helped the 72-year-old Cavin recognize it was time to step down.
Deciding to leave UCC for a second time, especially during these circumstances, wasn’t easy, she said.
“Harder than you can imagine,” Cavin said, her eyes moist with tears.
Cavin will stay through the end of January to ensure a smooth transition for the next interim president. When she took over in June, Cavin originally agreed to be UCC interim president for six months, opting to visit her husband in Corvallis on most weekends.
Now the Cavins have a new home in California, a granddaughter in the middle of planning a wedding and a son-in-law with an illness that has resulted in some additional demands on her daughter.
“I feel like I need to be there,” Cavin said.
If her family situation had not changed, it would be much easier to stay longer, Cavin said.
“Because I love this college,” she said.
It was Thursday, Oct. 1, and Cavin was halfway to Rogue Community College in Grants Pass to meet with other community college administrators when her cell phone began ringing. She pulled off Interstate 5 to check and learned of the horrible news. There was an active shooter at UCC and the entire campus was on lockdown. She turned around and headed back to Roseburg.
Hours later, she made her first appearance before a sea of cameras and microphones.
“Today was the saddest day in the history of the college,” Cavin said, words that were broadcast across the world.
There would be briefings and an appearance at a vigil later that night. As he watched how Cavin refused to shy away from the accident crisis, Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin was one of many was impressed.
“She didn’t shy away from that media frenzy that we had that first couple of days,” Hanlin said. “She responded appropriately to all the questions and concerns that the media and everybody had.” .
Lee Salter, director of community relations for UCC, said she was struck by Cavin’s presence away from the cameras as well, such as when she had to meet students and families of victims.
“She always has the ability to say the right thing,” Salter said.
More than two months later, the healing process continues at UCC.
“We’re not in the crisis situation anymore. We’re just tired,” Cavin said.
Looking back, Cavin said it would be impossible to imagine restoring UCC to normalcy without the tremendous outpouring of support from outside the campus.
“But just logistically, I don’t know how we would have gotten back on our feet without all the people coming from all of the other colleges to help us.”
When she does leave UCC, she will have no regrets.
“I really need to do what I said I was going to do,” Cavin said.
Salter is glad Cavin came when she did.
“I don’t think that anyone could have done a better job.”