Members of the Sackler family are gearing up to fight Tufts University in Massachusetts over its decision to remove the Sackler name from numerous buildings on its campus earlier this month, the New York Times reports. University leadership cited the family’s links to America’s opioid crisis through their company Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, in a statement shared on Tufts’s website as one of the reasons behind the move.
Robert Cordy, a lawyer representing some of the Sacklers descended from brothers Raymond and Mortimer Sackler, the former co-owners of Purdue, sent a letter to the president of the institution, which declared that the act was a “breach of the many commitments made by the university dating back to 1980 in order to secure the family’s support, including millions of dollars in donations for facilities and critical medical research.” The document also hinted that legal action might be taken against the university.
In response, Tufts representative Michael Rodman, issued the following statement: “We considered a number of factors in making the decision to remove the Sackler name and ultimately decided that the association with Tufts University was untenable and in opposition with the values and mission of the medical school and the university. Since the announcement we have received incredible support from faculty, students, alumni, and the public. We at Tufts stand by our decision, we know that it is the right thing to do, and we are prepared to vigorously defend our position.”
Over the last two years, activists including photographer Nan Goldin and her group P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) have campaigned against museums and academic institutions that have benefitted from the Sacklers’ philanthropy in an attempt to hold the drugmakers accountable for their aggressive marketing of OxyContin. One by one, institutions began to distance themselves from the family.
Among those that have announced they are no longer accepting funding from the Sacklers are the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. They have hesitated, however, to rid their buildings of the Sackler name. While the Louvre removed all mentions of the Sacklers from its walls in July, the institution claimed that it only had a twenty-year naming agreement with the family.
As evidenced by the letter presented to Tufts, taking down donors’ names is a tricky business. Michael Ward Stout, a lawyer who has previously advised museums, told the New York Times that institutions currently sporting the Sackler name must carefully review their contracts. The case involving Tufts is further complicated by the Massachusetts attorney general’s assertion that the Sacklers and Purdue Pharma used their relationship with the university to extend their influence over local medical professionals.
The Sacklers are currently embroiled in a massive legal battle in which they are trying to settle thousands of lawsuits in the United States. While the family offered to pay up to $3 billion of their own personal money in a deal which also involves the restructuring of Purdue, a New York Times report published on Monday states that members of the family have transferred over $10 billion out of Purdue over the course of a decade, which will likely spark questions over whether the Sacklers should contribute more.