Editorial: Tufts betrays itself through Sackler ties

The time has long since passed for Tufts University to sever ties with Purdue Pharma. After the January lawsuit brought against Purdue by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey revealed the corrupt relationship between the Sackler family and Tufts University, students and faculty throughout our university, and at the Tufts University School of Medicine in particular, have felt shame and embarrassment stemming from our role in the origins of the opioid epidemic that has killed tens of thousands of people nationwide.

Writing in the CommonWealth Magazine last month, Professor Paul Hattis of the Tufts School of Medicine noted: “One of our medical students noted in my class last week that she feels as if she is attending a medical school that could be aptly named the ‘Pablo Escobar School of Medicine.’”

Where is the shame and embarrassment we would expect of our Board of Trustees? Of President Monaco?

None of this is new. Allegations of wrongdoing against the Sackler family date back to at least 2001, when Forbes Magazine reported that “addiction is fast and overdoses are easy.” That same year, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal held a hearing on opioid abuse, and on abuse of Purdue’s OxyContin in particular. In that hearing, Dr. Russell Portenoy disclosed Purdue’s unethical sponsorship of his pain research at Beth Israel Hospital. Though the full extent of Dr. Portenoy’s multimillion-dollar entanglement with Purdue and other companies would not be known for over a decade, allegations and evidence piled up.

At any point during these intervening years, Tufts could have cut ties with the Sackler family. Instead, in 2014 President Monaco hand-delivered an honorary degree to Raymond Sackler, an architect of one of America’s worst public health disasters in modern history. In that year, more than 47,000 people died of overdoses, a number driven by opioid deaths, and Purdue was forced to pay $24 million in damages to the State of Kentucky, which put all of the money toward addiction treatment and rehabilitation. We knew then.

This dishonesty is not what our university was built on, and this must not be what we become.

The Universalist Church, under the guidance of Hosea Ballou II and the patronage of Charles Tufts, founded Tufts University 167 years ago. They did so with a dedication to intellectual openness and honesty. For over a century and a half, students and faculty have tried to live with this same dedication to those principles. Now, as lawsuits implicate us in the crimes of the scions of the American pharmaceutical industry, it’s clear our leadership has prioritized wealth over our long history and tradition of intellectual honesty.

Under the leadership of President Monaco, this dedication to intellectual truth was cast aside. Attorney General Healey has produced stunning evidence of academic dishonesty and corruption at Tufts and that evidence has had months to sink in. Tufts should not wait for more evidence, more lawsuits, more death, more embarrassment or more editorials.

Though it is too late for Tufts to avoid complicity with the Sacklers, we must cut ties all the same.