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Undergrads Submit Proposal to Remove Sackler Name From Campus Buildings

The Arthur M. Sackler Museum, part of the Harvard Art Museums, is located at 32 Quincy Street.
The Arthur M. Sackler Museum, part of the Harvard Art Museums, is located at 32 Quincy Street. By Pei Chao Zhuo
By Vivi E. Lu and Leah J. Teichholtz, Crimson Staff Writers

Members of the Harvard College Overdose Prevention and Education Students, a campus group dedicated to overdose awareness, urged the University to remove Arthur M. Sackler’s name from campus buildings in a proposal submitted Monday.

The 23-page proposal calls on Harvard to dename the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, part of the Harvard Art Museums, and the Arthur M. Sackler Building, a Faculty of Arts and Sciences building. The Sackler family’s company, Purdue Pharma, pled guilty in 2020 to charges around their marketing of the addictive painkiller OxyContin. Members of the family reached a $6 billion settlement agreement in March that would resolve thousands of civil lawsuits over their role in the opioid epidemic.

In the proposal, the authors acknowledge Arthur Sackler passed away almost a decade before OxyContin hit the market, but they argue the marketing practices he created fueled sales of the drug.

The proposal was submitted through the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Process for Denaming Spaces, Programs, or other Entities, which had a Monday deadline for requests for the 2022-2023 academic year.

Last week, more than 300 Harvard affiliates signed a petition included in the proposal to express their support for removing the Sackler name from Harvard. Organizers promised to enter any person who signed the petition into a lottery for $100.

If the proposal is approved, Harvard would follow in the footsteps of other prominent organizations, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the British Museum, which removed the Sackler family name from their buildings.

The denaming proposal contends the Sackler name is “deeply tied to the opioid epidemic.”

“To many of us—students, staff, and faculty—it is unacceptable and deeply offensive that we are represented by the Sackler name,” the proposal reads. “It is embarrassing and unsettling to know that our school, unlike almost every other cultural and educational institution that at one point displayed the Sackler name, has decided to keep the name, despite the message of disrespect that it sends to our community and to the world.”

A Harvard spokesperson confirmed FAS had received the proposal and said it would move forward in the review process. A Harvard Art Museums spokesperson wrote that the request to dename the Harvard Art Museum building would move through a similar review process under the University, as the museum is not part of FAS.

The museum spokesperson added that Harvard currently does not have plans to remove Arthur Sackler’s name from the building, noting he died prior to the development of OxyContin and that his foundation does not fund the museum.

Still, the proposal authors alleged Arthur Sackler was “far from blameless” in the opioid epidemic due to his role in developing medical marketing techniques they described as “deeply unethical.”

“Put simply, the ethos of the Sackler family and of Purdue Pharma can be traced back directly to Arthur Sackler,” the proposal reads.

Spokespeople for Purdue Pharma and Jillian Sackler — Arthur Sackler’s widow — did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Activists have previously called for the removal of the Sackler name from campus buildings. Following protests in 2019, however, University President Lawrence S. Bacow said it would be “inappropriate” to remove the name.

Jay P. Garg ’24, the policy chair for HCOPES, said he hopes going through the now-formalized FAS process for removing controversial names will be a more effective way to push for change than past protests.

“There’s a committee of people who are going to look at it and try to grapple with how central this is to University life and how central this is to the history of this country, and what should be done as a result of it,” Garg said. “I’m hoping that the process itself will make it a little easier to get something done.”

Allan M. Brandt, a History of Science professor and HCOPES faculty adviser, expressed his support for the proposal in an emailed statement and said the Sackler name on campus buildings poses an “important reputational risk” to Harvard.

“I urge the University to act positively on this important and thoughtfully presented request to dename the buildings currently named for members of the Sackler family,” he wrote.

David M. Hogg ’23, whose tweet last month calling on Harvard to remove Sackler’s name garnered more than 10,000 likes and a thousand retweets, said he believes the presence of the Sackler family’s name on campus buildings is “terrible.”

Hogg added that Harvard’s mission, which he described as “creating better citizens and citizen-leaders,” does not align with “celebrating” the Sackler family.

“Citizen leaders help address the injustices that come before us and acknowledge that we may not necessarily be responsible for creating them ourselves,” Hogg said. “But we do have a responsibility to address them and find some form of justice. I think a first step in the right direction is changing the name — but it’s not the last step.”

—Staff writer Vivi E. Lu can be reached at vivi.lu@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @vivielu_.

—Staff writer Leah J. Teichholtz can be reached at leah.teichholtz@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @LeahTeichholtz.

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