Thursday, May 26, 2011

Salt Institute's faculty resign en masse

My former colleagues over at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies tell me that the entire faculty resigned last week, including veteran teachers Rob Rosenthal (director of the radio program) and Kate Philbrick (director of photography), who regular readers may remember for their powerful Malaga Island documentary.

I am not an unbiased observer, having headed the writing program during the 2008-2009 academic year. (I left of my own accord to finish my fourth book.) I'm a great believer in Salt's mission (even if the board has had trouble articulating it): cultivating thoughtful, ethical, honest, and technically skilled storytellers through engagement in real documentary projects. In its nearly forty years of existence, Salt students have produced an impressive body of work, and many of its graduates have gone on to big things in the worlds of radio documentary, documentary photography, and narrative journalism. The institution is an asset to Maine and to the wider, endangered world of thoughtful journalism.

Unfortunately, Salt is not without its problems, the most obvious and longstanding being its near-total dependence on student tuition. A continuing mystery among the faculty when I was there was why the board and executive director Donna Galluzzo were resistant to embarking on a focused development effort, or even to recruit board members with professional development experience. Salt, we were told, was not suited to such a campaign. Perhaps opinion has changed in the two years since I taught there, but the underlying cash flow vulnerabilities clearly have not: last year the faculty shrank by nearly half in an effort to cut costs.

There's also the matter of turnover. Of the twelve full- and part-time faculty and staff who worked at the institution when I was there, Ms. Galluzzo is the only one who remains. The board -- currently chaired by Portland Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz -- might ask themselves if this has been the best outcome for the institution.

[Update, 6/1/2011: The Portland Daily Sun follows up on this story.]

[Update, 7/8/2011: For more on Galluzzo's point of view, there's this from the Portland Phoenix, a story demonstrating the pitfalls of single-source reporting.]


  1. Kate Philbrick was also thee with you Colin. She has been teaching at Salt for 17 years... in fact, Donna was her STUDENT.

  2. @anonymous: Yes, I know, and so was Rob Rosenthal. They're no longer there now.

  3. Ooops. Just reread the post and caught the meaning. My mistake.

  4. The sale of Exchange St. building gave Salt 1.375 million, nearly three times what the institute paid for the property

    Where did all that money go.....
    Too bad Salt seems to of strayed from Pam Woods vision.

  5. @Anonymous of 27 May - I don't any insider information, but I think it's fair to assume that a large chunk of the proceeds went into the gutting and renovation of their leased space on Congress Street and the new equipment, gear, and furnishings therein.

  6. As a media educator (Rob taught me when I was in high school - some 13 years ago!) I find it disappointing that Salt's executive director and new education director have no professional experience as journalists, technologists or educators. Salt would be wise to add a documentary video component - but unwise to do so without experienced media educators at the helm.