It’s famously been a bad year for the Sackler family, a group of people who became enormously wealthy through the Connecticut-based company Purdue Pharma, which profited hugely via the widespread sale and marketing of fatally addictive painkillers. Due to the connection between the Sackler family and unimaginable pain and suffering, a number of institutions recently elected to stop taking money from them, including but not limited to: London’s National Portrait Gallery, the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You’d think the Sacklers would be used to being shunned by now, but it turns out that’s not the case. Two weeks ago, Tufts became the first major university to remove the Sackler name from its buildings and campus literature, and the family is apparently so incensed about this they had their lawyer send a letter to the school in protest.
According to a lawyer named Robert Cordy who specifically represents Raymond Sackler and Mortimer Sackler, the removal of their name from the walls of Tufts represents a violation of the contract the family and the university entered into decades ago; the contract being that the latter could secure fiduciary support from the former. Cordy’s letter characterizes the removal as “a breach of the many binding 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.” Michael Rodman, a spokesperson for Tufts, responded with a statement that expressed the university’s belief in its decision. “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,” Rodman said in his statement, which was acquired by the New York Times. “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.”
Interestingly, the Sacker family didn’t respond so indignantly when the Louvre removed their name from its walls, perhaps because the Paris museum denied that they did so because of the bad press garnered by the opioid crisis. One could speculate the Sacklers are anticipating that many other American academic institutions will fall in line with Tufts and reconsider whether they want the Sackler name on their walls, and the long, slow process of a family legacy’s dissolution is a grim prospect. However, it’s definitely not a prospect as grim as the injury or overdose of a beloved relative who got over-prescribed OxyContin, so the Sacklers should be able to tough this one out.