Tufts medical students confront Monaco regarding Sacklers, Stern report

Students with the Tufts University School of Medicine attended University President Anthony Monaco’s office hour on Monday to address what they called the university’s lack of action around its relationship to the Sackler family, Purdue Pharma and a seeming delay in the completion and release of former U.S. Attorney Donald Stern’s report on Tufts’ relationship with the family.

According to Sarah Hemphill, a second-year medical student who attended the meeting, the students were also calling for the removal of the Sackler name from all of Tufts’ buildings and institutions.

“The bottom line … is that taking the Sackler name down is the most significant public action the school can take to acknowledge the severity of the crisis and all eyes are going to be on how the trustees decide to handle this decision,” Hemphill said in an interview with the Daily after the office hour.

Katie Stevenson, another second-year medical student, similarly spoke of the Sackler name as “synonymous” with the opioid crisis, meaning the removal of the name is essential.

“There is a power in public symbols,” Stevenson said in an interview. “Changing the name is not sufficient in and of itself, but it represents a greater commitment and public commentary on Tufts’ relationship and connection to this crisis.”

According to Stevenson, the removal of the name would be equally impactful for medical students.

“We want to graduate from here being proud of where we went to medical school, and be able to say that our school was on the right side of history and took the opportunity to be a leader when others weren’t,” she said.

Hemphill added that, because Boston has been so deeply affected by the opioid crisis, publicly displaying the name on the building is harmful to residents affected by the crisis.

According to Hemphill, deans and other administrators at the medical school no longer use the Sackler name in their communications. In particular, administrators referring to what is formally named the Arthur M. Sackler Center for Health Communications at 145 Harrison Ave. now refer to the building as the “Medical Education Building” or “Med-Ed.”

However, Stevenson said that the students would not be satisfied until the Sackler name is officially erased from Tufts.

Another point of contention for the students is the apparent delay in publication of the Stern Report. According to a Daily interview last semester with Monaco, he hoped the report would be released by the summer. However, the administration has otherwise never provided a guarantee that the report would be published by a specific time, Tufts’ Executive Director of Public Relations Patrick Collins told the Daily in an email.

“The President’s office and university statements and communications about the review process have made it clear that Mr. Stern would be afforded as much time as he needed to conduct an extensive and comprehensive review,” the email said.

Activism against the Sackler name has been prevalent at the medical school since Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey released a report implicating Tufts for its relationship to the Sackler family. Hemphill said that medical students drafted a petition in response to the lack of action by the administration following Healey’s report.

According to the petition, around 256 students, more than a quarter of the medical school’s population, signed the petition. The petition says around 75% of the second-year medical students have signed the petition.

Dated to March 6, the petition is addressed to Monaco, Chairman to the Board of Trustees Peter Dolan and Dean of the Medical School Harris Berman.

“As future healthcare providers, we are troubled by the Sackler family’s role in knowingly misleading the medical community, patients, and the public about the risks of OxyContin and thereby not only fueling but profiting from the opioid crisis,” the petition reads.

The petition continues to say that the university failed to acknowledge its relationships to the Sacklers and Purdue Pharma quickly enough.

“The silence from our administration stands in stark contrast to recent disclosures in the media of the Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey complaint against the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma,” the petition says.

The petition goes on to say that students recognize the efforts of the administration, including beginning the Stern investigation and incorporating conflict of interest protections within the medical school curriculum. However, it says the medical school should take more radical steps.

“We call on Tufts University to take swift and meaningful action to sever ties with the Sackler family, improve institutional transparency, implement policy changes that avoid similar damage in the future, and provide restitution for the negative impact on affected communities,” it says.

The petition goes on to list 12 recommendations to the administrators, including providing more information regarding conflict of interest policies, holding an open forum regarding Tufts’ ties to the Sacklers, eliminating the Pain, Research, Education and Policy (PREP) master’s program and removing the Sackler name from all buildings and plaques.

According to a recent Daily article, the PREP program is already being phased out due to low enrollment and austerity measures by the medical school. Hemphill and Stevenson also said that their professors have since used more robust conflict of interest statements in their lectures.

Hemphill and Stevenson reflected that Monaco seemed receptive to their concerns, saying the president appeared to leave all options for how to deal with the report open, and Collins said that such input would be considered in the final review of the Stern report by the Board.

“President Monaco appreciated the input of the students who attended his open meeting in Boston and input that he has received from other students, faculty and staff throughout the review process. The Board will hear the views of students, faculty, and medical school leaders during its meeting this weekend,” Collins said.