Oxford University Cuts Ties with Sackler Family over Opioid Controversy

Oxford University Cuts Ties with Sackler Family over Opioid Controversy

The University of Oxford has decided to end its association with the Sackler family, who amassed their wealth through the sale of addictive opioid drugs. This means that the family’s name will be removed from buildings, galleries, and positions that were funded through their donations.

The university’s governing council, after an investigation by Prof Irene Tracey, the new vice-chancellor, has approved the removal of the Sackler name from two galleries in the Ashmolean Museum, a university library, and several staff positions.

Oxford’s decision follows widespread criticism of the university for retaining the Sackler name. Other prominent institutions such as the British Museum and the V&A have already removed the Sackler titles, recognizing the connection between the funding and the family’s ownership of Purdue Pharma, which went bankrupt due to its production of the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin.

In a statement, the university said that it had conducted a review of its relationship with the Sackler family and their trusts, including how their donations were acknowledged. As a result of this review, the university has decided to no longer use the Sackler name for its buildings, spaces, and staff positions. The Sackler library has been renamed the Bodleian Art, Archaeology, and Ancient World Library, and three staff positions supported by the family’s donations will also drop the Sackler title.

The university clarified that all donations received from the Sackler family and their trusts will still be utilized for their intended educational purposes. However, no new donations have been received from the family or their trusts since January 2019.

Despite the removal of the name, the university will maintain the recognition of Sackler gifts on a plaque at the Clarendon building and on the Ashmolean museum’s donor board, purely for historical recording purposes.

Prof Irene Tracey, a specialist in pain perception and anaesthetics, initiated the review before the Financial Times reported in February that the university continued its ties with the Sackler family. The university extended invitations to events such as the Oxford-Cambridge boat race and continued accepting donations, even as Purdue faced legal action for its role in the opioid addiction crisis in the United States.

Other institutions have already taken similar actions. In 2019, the Louvre in Paris removed the Sackler name from its oriental antiquities wing, and the Serpentine Gallery announced that it would no longer accept donations from Sackler trusts. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York also followed suit in 2021.

Last year, George Osborne, the chair of the British Museum, announced that the Sackler name would be removed from all galleries, rooms, and endowments supported by the family’s trusts, stating that it was time to embrace a new era.