Recording Academy head Deborah Dugan put on administrative leave a week before Grammys

The Academy's first female president is facing allegations of "misconduct"

Recording Academy President Grammy Deborah Dugan Administrative Leave Grammys Amanda Friedman
Deborah Dugan, photo by Amanda Friedman via Recording Academy

    Just a week before Music’s Biggest Night, Recording Academy President/CEO Deborah Dugan has been placed on administrative leave in the face of “misconduct” allegations.

    In a statement sent to The Associated Press on Thursday night, the Academy explained,

    “In light of concerns raised to the Recording Academy Board of Trustees, including a formal allegation of misconduct by a senior female member of the Recording Academy team, the board has placed Recording Academy President and CEO Deborah Dugan on administrative leave, effective immediately. The board has also retained two independent third-party investigators to conduct independent investigations of the allegations.

    The Board determined this action to be necessary in order to restore the confidence of the Recording Academy’s Membership, repair Recording Academy employee morale, and allow the Recording Academy to focus on its mission of serving all music creators.”

    Details of what this “misconduct” entails are not fully known, though a New York Times source says it stems from former president Neil Portnow’s assistant, who temporarily worked for Dugan. The assistant reportedly filed a complaint about Dugan’s “bullying management style,” which led to them taking a leave of absence.


    Still, there are rumblings that something else is going on. Sources told Variety they see Dugan’s ouster as a “coup” by entrenched Academy members resistant to her desire to make swift, sweeping changes in the organization. The thinking is they wanted to discredit Dugan before she had a chance to make a good showing with her first Grammy Awards ceremony.

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    Dugan was appointed in 2018 after her predecessor, Portnow, stepped down following a massive foot-in-mouth moment backstage at that year’s Grammys. Asked what he felt about only one women receiving an award during the show’s broadcast portion, he said women needed to “step up” if they wanted more recognition. The resulting controversy led to his leaving and, in a move to diversify the Academy’s ranks, the hiring of Dugan.

    However, insiders say Dugan’s attempts at changing the way the Academy operated were met with stern resistance. “She was a huge source of discomfort for everyone there because she believed she was coming to be an agent of change, but they don’t really want change at all,” a source told The Hollywood Reporter. “They had entrenched ways of doing business and anything she tried to change was met with ‘That’s not the how we do it.’”


    Another unnamed source put the responsibility on Dugan’s shoulders, saying, “…When you go in any job, you educate yourself in the past, as well as where you’re at to know how to move forward and I don’t think any of that was done appropriately by her.”

    Specifically, some sources told Billboard she was circumnavigating certain standard patterns of communication:

    “Instead of trying to make inroads [with] heads of labels and publishers, she would go around them to artists and managers. That political side of the role should be more to do with label heads and publishing heads and not cutting those people out. Those are the relationships that you want to build and people were noticing that she wasn’t doing it.”

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    Further complicating matters are a number of public statements Dugan made in just the last few weeks highlighting her efforts to move the Academy in a new direction. Speaking with Variety, she proclaimed, “Change is afoot. There’s a lot more communication, and there have been huge efforts to make sure we’re more inclusive and more diverse.”


    Even internally, Dugan was pressing forward with her desire to alter the Academy’s standard practices. Just three weeks ago, she sent a memo to the Academy’s human resources head outlining concerns about “voting irregularities, financial mismanagement, ‘exorbitant and unnecessary’ legal bills, and conflicts of interest involving members of the academy’s board, executive committee and outside lawyers” (via The New York Times).

    It’s likely more information about this shocking eleventh hour move will come out in the coming weeks, both from the Academy’s investigators and Dugan’s own legal counsel. Following the disciplinary actions, Dugan’s lawyer, Bryan Freedman, released a statement referencing Portnow’s infamous remarks:  “What has been reported is not nearly the story that needs to be told. When our ability to speak is not restrained by a 28-page contract and legal threats, we will expose what happens when you ‘step up’ at the Recording Academy, a public nonprofit.”

    For now, Board Chair Harvey Mason Jr. has stepped in as interim President and CEO of the Recording Academy while the investigations get underway. Meanwhile, Alicia Keys will host the 2020 Grammy Awards Sunday, January 26th at 8:00 p.m. ET.