Democratic presidential candidate and United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called on Harvard to remove Arthur M. Sackler’s name from campus Wednesday, lending perhaps the most prominent voice yet to a growing chorus of public officials, families of opioid victims, and local activists pressuring Harvard to do so.
Warren’s demand, first reported by CNN and confirmed by The Crimson through Warren spokesperson Kristen Orthman, came in the wake of her campaign’s release of a $100 billion plan to combat the opioid crisis. The plan seeks to fund opioid prevention programs and provide resources to those struggling with addiction and those in recovery.
“[We deserve] an America where when people like the Sacklers destroy millions of lives to make money, they don’t get museum wings named after them, they go to jail,” Warren, a Law School Professor Emerita, wrote in a post on Medium.
University President Lawrence S. Bacow has so far steadfastly resisted calls from activists to strip Arthur Sackler’s name from Harvard's campus art museum that bears his name, saying in an interview last week that such a move would be “inappropriate.”
Members of the Sackler family have served as executives at Purdue Pharma, the pharmaceutical company that produces the painkiller OxyContin, and have been accused of playing a role in the opioid crisis. But Arthur Sackler — who donated millions to Harvard in the 1980s to fund the construction of the namesake museum — passed away before OxyContin came to market. Still, many activists contend that he helped pioneer marketing tactics that Purdue would later use to sell the product.
The connections between members of the Sackler family and the opioid crisis have come to light in recent months after lawsuits filed by multiple attorneys general — including Massachusetts Attorney General Maura T. Healey ’92 — revealed the company used aggressive and at times deceptive techniques to flood communities with its painkiller.
Warren also announced Wednesday that she would donate $2,500 in campaign contributions from Beverly Sackler — whose late husband, Raymond, served as co-owner of Purdue Pharma — to charity.
Janet Wootten, a spokesperson for Jillian Sackler, the widow of Arthur Sackler, wrote in an emailed statement that Warren’s demands on Harvard amount to “great political rhetoric,” but are “utterly specious.”
“That Sen. Warren links giving back money to Beverly Sackler with a demand to remove Arthur Sackler's name from the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard is the worst kind of logic,” Wootten wrote. “Arthur had nothing to do with Purdue Pharma, which his brothers founded in 1991.”
“He had nothing to do with OxyContin, which came on to the market nearly a decade after his death,” she added. “None of Arthur Sackler’s philanthropy – to Harvard or elsewhere – is linked to Oxycontin profits.”
Over the last year, mothers of opioid victims and other local activists have held protests and engaged in a letter-writing campaign to convince Bacow to remove Sackler’s name from campus. In addition, a petition circulated on MoveOn.org with that objective has garnered roughly 14,750 signatures as of Thursday.
In January, Somerville mayor Joseph A. Curtatone wrote on Twitter that Harvard must engage in a “serious discussion” about whether to remove Arthur Sackler’s name from campus, in the wake of the release of filings as part of the Massachusetts lawsuit.
Warren — who received tenure at the Law School in 1993 at a time when the vast majority of the School’s faculty was male — announced her bid for the presidency in January. She has placed third in an average of recent polls of the Democratic primary electorate, behind former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.).
— Staff writer Jonah S. Berger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jonahberger98