Tufts University to remove Sackler name from buildings and programs

Family has come under fire for their central role in American opioid crisis

A sign stands at the edge of the campus of Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, U.S., November 27, 2017 (photo credit: BRIAN SNYDER / REUTERS)
A sign stands at the edge of the campus of Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, U.S., November 27, 2017
(photo credit: BRIAN SNYDER / REUTERS)
Tufts University will remove the Sackler name from its programs and facilities immediately, the Massachusetts school announced, citing the association of the family and their company Purdue Pharma with the deadly US opioid overdose epidemic.
In a statement published online on Thursday by Tufts University President Anthony Monaco and chairman of the board Peter Dolan, the university said it will remove the Sackler name from a series of buildings and programs at its Boston health sciences campus.
“The Tufts University School of Medicine’s values include a commitment to relieve suffering, improve quality of life, and promote integrity and social responsibility,” said Monaco, who has served as president since August 2011. “Given the human toll of the opioid epidemic in which members of the Sackler family and their company Purdue Pharma are associated, it is clear that continuing to display the Sackler name is inconsistent with these values.”
In addition to removing the Sackler name, the university says it will also establish a $3 million endowment fund to support programs aimed at preventing and treating substance abuse and addiction.
At the heart of ongoing litigation concerning the alleged role of pharmaceutical companies in the opioid overdose epidemic is Purdue, the multi-billion dollar drug maker owned by the Sackler family.
Purdue is facing more than 2,600 lawsuits alleging that it fueled the overdose epidemic via the sale of its well-known opioid painkiller Oxycontin.
Purdue announced in September that it had reached an agreement in principle on a framework to settle the litigation facing the company with 24 state attorneys-general and officials from five US territories.
The proposed settlement, which does not accept responsibility for the company’s alleged role in the crisis, is estimated to be worth more than $10 billion. Seeking to implement the agreement, Purdue filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code.
Every day an average of 130 Americans die from an opioid overdose, whether obtained by prescription or illicit means. The six-fold increase in such overdoses over the last two decades – the cause of death of almost 48,000 Americans in 2017 – led the US Department of Health and Human Services to declare a public health emergency.
Tufts will remove the Jewish multi-billionaire family’s name – previously more closely associated with generous philanthropic contributions than opioid addictions – 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.
“This is a step the university has never taken before,” said Dolan. “We were compelled to take action by the extraordinary circumstances of this public health crisis and its impact on our mission. We are grateful for the students, faculty, and alumni we met with who made it clear that the Sackler name now runs counter to the mission of the medical school, has had a negative impact on their studies and professional careers, and contradicts the purpose for which the gifts were initially given: to advance public health and research.”
THE RELATIONSHIP between Tufts and the Sackler family, whose combined wealth is estimated to exceed $13 billion by Bloomberg News, began in the 1980s.
“In making the decision to remove the Sackler name, which will begin immediately, we are not seeking to erase this chapter of Tufts’s history,” said Monaco. “It is part of this institution’s history forever and we intend to create an educational exhibit inside the medical school to describe the Sackler family’s involvement with Tufts, and to educate the community about lessons we all must learn from the opioid epidemic.”
Citing an external review commissioned by Tufts showing no wrongdoing in the decades-long relationship between the university, Purdue and the Sackler family, an attorney for Sackler family members said they would seek to reverse Tuft’s “disturbing and intellectually dishonest” decision.
“We appreciate that after a careful inquiry Tufts determined what has been true all along, that Purdue and the Sackler family conducted themselves properly and no wrongdoing or threat to academic integrity was found,” said attorney Daniel Connolly, according to an email published by The Washington Post. “This investigation’s findings are emblematic of so many of the negative stories surrounding Purdue and the family, that a careful look at the facts proves the allegations to be false and sensational.”
In July, the Louvre announced that it would remove the name of the Sackler family from its museum. London’s National Portrait Gallery also said in March that it had agreed “not to proceed” with a £1 million gift from the Sackler Trust to support a gallery project.
Leading museums, including New York’s Guggenheim Museum and London’s Tate, have stated that they will decline gifts from the family.
Tel Aviv University, home to the Sackler School of Medicine, came under pressure in March to remove the family name from the building founded in 1964, and which remains the country’s largest medical research and training complex.
Non-profit Physicians for Human Rights Israel called on Tel Aviv University President Joseph Klafter and dean of the Sackler School of Medicine Prof. Ehud Grossman to remove the Sackler family’s name from the faculty.
The nonprofit PHRI argued that the name should be removed due to “the inherent, acute clash between the sense of the medical calling that the faculty strives to imbue in its students, seeking to highlight the humanistic and ethical aspects of practicing medicine, and the conduct of members of the Sackler family as it emerges from publications and lawsuits filed against them in different US states.”
Responding to the letter, a spokesperson for the university told The Jerusalem Post: “The Sackler family donated to establish the medical school 50 years ago. The issue has yet to be resolved in the US courts.”