Oxford University plans to scrub the well-known Sackler name from the face of its buildings due to the family’s hand in the U.S. opioid epidemic, which they recently expressed regret over, CNN reported.
“Oxford University has undertaken a review of its relationship with the Sackler family and their trusts, including the way their benefactions to the University are recognized,” Oxford said in a statement this week.
After the review, plans are in the works for the name removal from “prominent landmarks” according to the article. The Sackler name was on some parts of the University’s art and archaeology museum, a library building and others.
The article explains:
Oxford’s review comes years after the family’s role in promoting OxyContin, a highly addictive and deadly prescription painkiller, to doctors and patients through its pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma, prompted other world institutions to break off ties, following pressure from campaign groups and victims.
Oxford’s statement said the Sackler family backed the university’s decision.
“These review outcomes have had the full support of the Sackler family and were approved by the University Council on 15 May 2023,” the statement noted.
In 2018, renowned photographer Nan Goldin (an opioid abuse survivor) publicly discussed the Sackler family’s involvement in the opioid crisis, which they had previously denied, according to CNN. The Sackler family donated millions of dollars to the art industry and has deep ties to this world, Vox reported.
Golden’s work revolves around getting the art world and others to recognize what the Sacklers have done to countless victims. This includes large-scale protests through an activist organization, P.A.I.N. (she co-founded) and a 2022 documentary, “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed.”
In 2019, Paris’ Louvre Museum cut ties with the Sackler name, taking it down from the walls, along with others like the British Museum. The New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art did something similar in 2021.
Why it matters: Due to donor obligations, the university described how the Sackler name would be kept “on the Clarendon Arch and on the Ashmolean Museum’s donor board for the purposes of historical recording of donations to the University.”
In March, a judge OK’d a $6 billion settlement from the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma to some US states and opioid victims. The settlement included the family letting US organizations or impacted places do away with the Sackler name as long as the family is told first and statements to the public about the removals don’t “disparage” the Sackler family, the article adds, though of course, this doesn’t impact Oxford.
While Oxford plans to remove the Sackler name from some of its prominent buildings, the university could have said what its hold up was in the statement. Now it looks like the University is playing catch up as it took some years for any move to be made in comparison to other institutions that were much faster in responding.
While this is a PR decision to distance themselves from the controversial Sackler name, Oxford also could have spoken a little more in-depth about why the university made its decision (as others have done) and not leave students and other stakeholders in the dark.
Oxford is trying to save face the best way it can –- though is it too little too late?
Are they making any other steps to help or honor the victims of the opioid epidemic, or are they merely hoping that by removing the Sackler name, they can ignore the money they received from this tragic chapter of history?
Being even more thoughtful and honing in on the “why” this is being done goes a long way. Back up words with action — not just erasure.
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Sherri Kolade is a writer at Ragan Communications. When she is not with her family, she enjoys watching Alfred Hitchcock-style films, reading and building an authentically curated life that includes more than occasionally finding something deliciously fried. Follow her on LinkedIn. Have a great PR story idea? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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