A picture of the former Sackler library, now the Bodleian Art, Archaeology and the Ancient World Library
Image Credit: Blane Aitchison

Sackler name removed from University of Oxford buildings

Following a review of its relationship with the Sackler family, the University of Oxford have announced that they are removing the Sackler name from all buildings, spaces and staff positions. The review was initiated by Vice Chancellor Irene Tracey.

The family has long been criticised for its marketing and sales campaigns of OxyContin, a synthetic opioid which contributed to a US opioid crisis that has claimed over 750,000 lives.

The Sackler Rome Gallery and the Sackler Learning Officer at the Ashmolean Museum will be renamed, while the Sackler Library is set to become the Bodleian Art, Archaeology and the Ancient World Library. However, the Sackler name will remain on the Clarendon Arch and on the Ashmolean’s donor board, as a record of their donations. 

The decision has the “full support” of the family.

Although the University has not received donations from the family or their trusts since the start of 2019, Sackler money will be retained and used as intended. The Sacklers’ 2 UK-based charities have given Oxford more than £10m since 1991, and also made donations to Harvard and US medical schools.

The family first came to prominence through aggressive and inaccurate marketing of Valium, making the drug among the bestselling medicines of the 1960s and 1970s. By the late 1990s, they were using the same tactics to sell OxyContin, a synthetic opioid which is twice as powerful as morphine and has contributed to an opioid crisis which claims the lives of more than 100,000 Americans each year.

Institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the British Museum, and the Victoria and Albert Museum have since removed the family name from their galleries. This came following pressure from photographer Nan Goldin, whose group PAIN (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) has repeatedly protested the family’s influence and philanthropy in the art world. 

Several higher education institutions, including Tufts University, Yale University and Edinburgh University have also cut ties with the Sacklers.

Goldin’s campaign pressured institutions to remove the Sackler name from their buildings. The group staged “die-ins”, where protesters threw pill bottles into museum moats, laid down on museum floors to represent hundreds of thousands of OxyContin related deaths, and used chants such as “Sackler money, blood money”.

However, Theresa Sackler was invited to the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race in 2022, despite insistent lobbying from Oxford students to boycott the family.