On Monday, the day that the Recording Academy officially terminated Deborah Dugan, interim boss Harvey Mason Jr. sat with the Los Angeles Times for his first interview since the organization’s former president/CEO was abruptly — and controversially — placed on administrative leave just 10 days before the Grammy Awards.
“We see this as a really unfortunate set of circumstances,” he told the paper. “We know it affected people, and we don’t take that for granted. But for us as an organization, it’s a setback, and it’s not something that we’re going to spend a ton more time and energy on. We’re focused on the future, and on transforming the Academy.
“This is something I started in May when I came in,” he continued. “I feel really good about some of the steps we’ve taken thus far, and I feel very optimistic about where we are right now and going forward.”
Despite his claims of optimism, and despite the Academy’s unspecific citing of a “two exhaustive, costly independent investigations relating to Ms. Dugan and the allegations made against her and by her,” there’s little question that the Academy is continuing to reel from the biggest scandal in its history. Dugan, who was placed on leave on Jan. 16 amid vague accusations of “misconduct” toward an employee sources say was her former assistant, fiercely disputed the Academy’s version of events in a legal complaint and several statements, which accuse the organization of multiple instances of misconduct, including improprieties in the Grammy voting procedure, “egregious conflicts of interest, improper self-dealing by Board members… and a ‘boys’ club’ mentality”; “exorbitant” legal fees paid to outside law firms; and that attorney Joel Katz, an Academy executive affiliated with one of those law firms, attempted to “woo” and kiss her.
Her complaint also brought forth an accusation that her predecessor, Neil Portnow, raped an unnamed female artist; Portnow later admitted the accusation but said he was exonerated after a third-party investigation. Sources have told Variety that Dugan’s ouster was more of a “coup” by executives and officers at the Academy, who felt threatened by her agenda for change in the organization and disapproved of her management style.
While the Academy has doubled down on its strongly worded comments about Dugan’s “behavior” and claims there were “multiple” staffers who came forward, it has provided no specifics. Dugan and her attorney again contested the Academy’s version of events after her termination was made public on Monday; a rep for the Academy declined Variety’s request for details about the investigations, saying only, “ “Again, these allegations are false, as proven out by independent investigation which found them to be exactly that. Making the allegations again does not make them true.”
Mason was equally vague in his interview with the Times. Asked how soon he expects to name Dugan’s replacement, he said, “as soon as possible.” As to whether they are seeking another female chief executive — which many felt was important, given former Grammy chief Neil Portnow’s 2018 statement that female musicians and executives need to “step up” in order to advance in the industry —Mason said, “For us the emphasis is on finding a great CEO. The first and foremost priority will be interviewing a diverse and inclusive slate of candidates.”
In the wake of the racial and gender imbalances laid bare by Portnow’s comment, the Academy formed a Task Force for Inclusion and Diversity, headed by Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff, Tina Tchen. The Task Force filed its a strongly-worded 47-page report identifying multiple areas for improvement at the in December — which identified multiple areas where the Academy lacks diversity — but issued a statement in January saying ti was “shocked and dismayed” by Dugan’s allegations and demanded that the Academy implement its recommendations “without any delay.” It said it would reconvene in 90 days — mid-April — and expects to hear progress.
Mason said he is meeting with Tchen this month. The accusations brought against the Academy over the past two years have “given us a chance to inspect a lot of things about the academy,” Mason said. “We are making substantive improvements to everything we’re doing.”
Asked about the events of the past two months, he concluded, “I guess I saw a little bit of something coming — but not this. I ran for chair because I’ve been involved in the academy for 12 or 13 years, and I felt we could do some things differently. We needed to be more representative of the different genres and people making music. And I was excited that Deb was coming in with that same mindset. My whole objective in being here from Day One was to make sure that we were evolving as an academy, and this CEO issue is not distracting me from that.”