December 9, 2019

Tufts University Rids Sackler Name from Its Buildings

Worker Gabe Ryan removes a sign that includes the name Arthur M. Sackler at an entrance to Tufts School of Medicine, on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. Photo: AP/Steven Senne.

MEDFORD, MASSACHUSETTS—Tufts University in Massachusetts will remove the Sackler name from several buildings on its campus, as well as from its programs, over the family’s role in the United States opioid crisis. The school also announced that it will establish a $3 million endowment to support education, research, and civic engagement programs aimed at the prevention and treatment of addiction and substance abuse. Tufts is believed to be the first university to take down the Sacklers’ name.

“Our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and others have shared with us the negative impact the Sackler name has on them each day, noting the human toll of the opioid epidemic in which members of the Sackler family and their company, Purdue Pharma, are associated,” the university’s board chair, Peter R. Dolan, and president, Anthony P. Monaco, said in a joint statement. “We are grateful to those who have shared their thoughts with us. It is clear that the Sackler name, with its link to the current health crisis, runs counter to the school’s mission.”

The move comes amid the ongoing legal battle against the Sacklers and Purdue, the manufacturer of the drug OxyContin. Both parties are currently embroiled in thousands of lawsuits that have been filed by states, counties, and tribal reservations across the US, as well as by individual plaintiffs. As part of a settlement agreement—valued at around $12 billion—Purdue, which filed for bankruptcy in September, is being reconfigured into an entity that will continue selling OxyContin but will use the proceeds to settle the legal complaints against it—the company will also begin donating overdose reversal drugs and other treatments.

Daniel S. Connolly, an attorney who represents family members of Raymond Sackler—one of the founders of Purdue—told the New York Times that the university’s decision was “particularly disturbing and intellectually dishonest.” Citing an independent review of the family’s relationship with the university that was commissioned by Tufts—which cleared the university of any wrongdoing when it previously accepted monies from the Sacklers—Connolly added: “We will be seeking to have this improper decision reversed and are currently reviewing all options available to us.”

The Sacklers’ name will be removed from the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences; the Arthur M. Sackler Center for Medical Education; the Sackler Laboratory for the Convergence of Biomedical, Physical and Engineering Sciences; the Sackler Families Fund for Collaborative Cancer Biology Research; and the Richard S. Sackler, M.D. Endowed Research Fund. The buildings will be renamed the Tufts Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences; the Tufts Center for Medical Education; the Tufts Laboratory for the Convergence of Biomedical, Physical, and Engineering Sciences; the Tufts Fund for Collaborative Cancer Biology Research; and the Tufts Endowed Basic Science Research Fund.

In response to the news, Jillian Sackler, the widow of Arthur M. Sackler—the brother of Raymond and Mortimer Sackler—whose aggressive marketing strategies were adopted by Purdue and largely blamed for igniting the opioid epidemic, issued the following statement: “The man has been dead for thirty-two years. He did not profit from it, and none of his philanthropic gifts were in any way connected to opioids or to deceptive medical marketing—which he likewise had nothing to do with. It deeply saddens me to witness Arthur being blamed for actions taken by his brothers and other OxySacklers.”

Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC, which have been targeted by photographer Nan Goldin, head of the group P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now), and other anti-Sackler activists, are being rebranded as the National Museum of Asian Art.

While the institutions claim that the change is not related to the Sackler controversy, the announcement was made at a time when many cultural institutions are attempting to distance themselves from Purdue’s legacy. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York as well as the Tate and the South London Gallery have stopped accepting funding from the Sacklers. The Louvre also recently took the family’s name off its walls. Lori Duggan Gold, deputy director of the galleries, told the Washington Post that the “shift is toward a unified brand and not away from gallery names.” While the reasoning behind the decision may be questioned, Smithsonian secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III confirmed in July that the institution is not able to legally change the name of the museum.

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