In the wake of former U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Donald K. Stern and Attorney Sandy Remz’s report on Tufts’ relationship to the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma, Tufts has decided to remove the Sackler name from its health sciences campus, effective immediately, in addition to the establishment of a $3 million endowment focused on substance abuse and addiction treatment and prevention.
The decision comes after months of lobbying and actions by student activists of varying levels and public statements by community members and professors calling on Tufts to remove the name from the school.
“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,” Peter Dolan, the chairman of the Board of Trustees, said.
According to a press release published on TuftsNow, five entities will change their names. Notably, the Sackler School of Biomedical Sciences will become the Tufts Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and the Arthur M. Sackler Center for Medical Education, the central building in the Health Sciences campus, will become the Tufts Center for Medical Education.
The Sackler name will also be removed from buildings and programs formerly known as the Sackler Laboratory for the Convergence of Biomedical, Physical and Engineering Sciences; the Sackler Families Fund for Collaborative Cancer Biology Research; and the Richard Sackler Endowed Research Fund.
Members of the Sackler family as well as a lawyer for members of the family were disappointed with the decision to remove the name.
“Arthur had nothing to do with OxyContin. The man has been dead for 32 years,” Jillian Sackler, Arthur Sackler’s widow, said in a statement.
“He did not profit from OxyContin, 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,” she said, referring to the part of the Sackler family that funded and profited from OxyContin.
In a statement, an attorney for members of the Sackler family, Daniel Connolly, used the Stern’s report to question the validity of Tufts’ decision, apparently referencing the fact that the report does not explicitly find wrongdoing perpetrated by the Sacklers.
“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,” Connolly said. “Tufts acknowledges their extraordinary decision about removal of the family name from campus is not based on the findings of their report, but rather is based on unproven allegations about the Sackler family and Purdue.”
Connolly appeared ready to take action against the university.
“We will be seeking to have this improper decision reversed and are currently reviewing all options available to us,” he said.
The university removed the Sackler name from its buildings on Thursday.
“It is part of this institution’s history forever and we intend to create an educational exhibit inside the medical school so that current and future generations can learn from our experience,” Monaco said in the release.
The report outlines that the university received donations from the Purdue and the Sacklers totalling to $15 million. Monaco confirmed in an interview with the Daily that the funds given by the Sacklers would not be used directly to fund programs relating to addiction and would instead be used for biomedical research as intended.
“We believe that the charitable intent of those funds is still valid but we would like to not have the Sackler name associated with them because we feel, and have made the decision that that is untenable and in opposition to those charitable intents,” Monaco said.
However, the $3 million endowment, which Monaco said would be funded by university “reserves” through the Office of the Provost, would allow faculty to apply for programs focused on research and programs into substance abuse. Monaco added that this funding could be used to incentivize students and faculty to work for nonprofits and other treatment programs related to addiction.
The university appears to have made the decision to establish the endowment and remove the Sackler name independently of the content of the report — Stern and Remz’s 34-page analysis of the relationships between Tufts, Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family does not make recommendations regarding the removal of the Sackler name, saying that the potential removal of the name is outside the scope of the investigation.
Instead, Tufts seems to be responding to activism and input from Tufts students and residents in its host communities. In an interview with the Daily earlier this semester, second-year medical student Sarah Hemphill told Monaco that the impact of taking the name down would be significant during one of his fall office hours.
“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 at the time.
In line with recommendations from the report which called for more scrutiny and transparency with regard to how gifts would be used, Monaco said that a document which is more stringent may be established.
“We currently have a very long document which describes all of our gift policies; I think they wanted something that would provide sort of upfront, the guiding principles upon which we would accept gifts,” Monaco said. “For example, that there would be no quid pro quo between a donor and the university.”
The removal of the name was welcomed by several Massachusetts politicians.
Attorney General Maura Healey, who criticized Tufts’ relationship to the Sackler family in a legal complaint that came out in January, praised Tufts for the decision.
“We applaud Tufts for this thoughtful and transparent review of its relationship with the Sackler family, for its recognition of the implications that relationship had on the mission and values of the university, and for listening to the voices of its students,” she said.
Congresswoman Katherine Clark of Massachusetts’ 5th District, which includes Medford, provided pointed criticism of the Sacklers but praise of Tufts’ decision to go through with the report.
“We know that [the opioid crisis] had its roots at least in part with the Sackler family and their pursuit of profits over people,” the Congresswoman said. “And I commend Tufts for taking a comprehensive look at donations that were accepted from the Sackler family, any potential conflicts of interest or impact on research that may have had.”
Clark emphasized the importance of removing the name from buildings, saying that many people in her and other districts had been affected by the crisis and taking down the Sackler name was a major symbolic show of support.
“I think it is a very important move to remove the name from those buildings,” Clark said. “And that they’ve gone farther than just taking down the name, but have really done a deep dive into how the donations may have influenced and created conflicts of interest.”
Likewise, Senator Ed Markey, who used to serve in Clark’s district, told the Daily in a statement that the decision was necessary for the preservation of community confidence.
“Tufts University is doing the right thing by removing the Sackler name from its buildings and programs,” he said. “Countless Massachusetts families have suffered loss, pain, and death as a result of Purdue Pharma’s deception and product. They should not have to look upon the name of the family that has caused suffering to so many.”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include quotes from relevant parties.
Correction: The previous headline of the article, which read “Responding to Stern report findings, Tufts removes Sackler name, establishes endowment” has been updated to “Tufts removes Sackler name from buildings, programs, establishes endowment” since the original headline mischaracterized Tufts’ decision as a direct response to the Stern report. The article also inaccurately said the Sackler name was removed from Tufts’ “campuses,” when in fact the Sackler name only ever appeared on Tufts’ Health Sciences campus. The article has been updated to reflect these changes. The Daily regrets these errors.