University of Oxford Severs Ties with Sackler Family

England’s Oxford University on May 15 announced that it would remove the Sackler name from the buildings, spaces, and staff positions with which it is currently affiliated. The move follows an investigation conducted earlier this year by Irene Tracey, the university’s new vice-chancellor, who is a professor of neuroscience specializing in pain perception and anesthetics. Oxford noted that while “all donations received from the Sackler family and their trusts will be retained by the university for their intended educational purposes,” no new donations have been received from any of these entities since January 2019, nor would any be accepted going forward.

Affected by the decision, which was taken with the “full support of the Sackler family,” are the university’s former Sackler Library (now the Bodleian Art, Archaeology and Ancient World Library) as well as the Rome Gallery and the Gallery of Life After Death in Ancient Egypt at the Ashmolean Museum. The name will be dropped from three staff positions funded by the family donations, including that of keeper of antiquities at the Ashmolean. In the interest of “historical recording,” the university will publicly recognize Sackler donations on a plaque at its Clarendon building and on the donor board at the Ashmolean. 

Oxford is the latest major institution to remove the name, tainted by family members’ affiliation with the now-bankrupt Purdue Pharma, maker of the highly addictive opioid OxyContin. Artist advocacy group P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now), founded by artist Nan Goldin, for years lobbied museums to end their associations with the Sacklers, charging that family members “artwashed” profits gained from the tarnished drugmaker through substantial gifts lavished upon museums in exchange for naming rights. The Victoria & Albert Museum scrubbed the name from its walls last year, following in the footsteps of institutions including London’s British Museum, National Gallery, and Serpentine Galleries; New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art; and the Louvre in Paris.


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